The Mississippi Wildlife Federations annual Extravaganza to raise awareness on state wildlife and teach people how to have fun outdoors is catching controversy in Backwater Pump Project debates.
It began when a woman in the Delta signed up for a booth at the Extravaganza to raise awareness on the backwater flood and pump project, but was told she could not have it. The Wildlife Federation has since told us it was a misunderstanding, but other vendors are coming to her defense.
As water levels keep receding in the South Delta the damage to homes, agriculture, but also wildlife becomes clearer.
“It’s hard to understand why anyone who supports wildlife would be against the pumps,” Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson told us.
That’s when Delta farmer Victoria Darden decided to open up a booth at Extravaganza to show the dangers the backwater flood has been to animals and the ecosystem, but was turned down.
“At 2:00pm Friday she told me I was denied basically because we weren’t going to sell anything,” Darden said. “So I hung up the phone and then I thought about it so I went back through and read the agreement and it didn’t say I couldn’t have a booth because I wasn’t going to sell anything.”
This response outraged big vendors including the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and their Commissioner Andy Gipson who pulled out of the fundraiser in support of Darden.
“I think the message is loud and clear,” Commissioner Gipson stated. “We as Mississippians are going to stand by our friends and neighbors and families in the South Delta until the pumps are finished.”
Claiming they had a long wait list of vendors who are selling products, the state Wildlife Federation now tells us they sorted out a new deal to welcome Darden to spread her message.
“They’re going to be in one of our vendors booths, we had offered them they’re own booth, but they decided to go with another vendor,” Elizabeth Barber with MWF said.
“We had several people that were on the waiting list, but it didn’t show that online. We had a floor plan, and we do have to jury our vendors to as they’re things that might not be appropriate for the show.”
Those in the Delta and Mississippi Wildlife Federation have at many times disagreed over the years with deciding pumps in the Wetlands, which Darden believes was part of her being denied.
“I feel like they were very standoffish of approving me because they do not support it,” Darden said. “And there’s an issue of that, but I was going there to be informational and educational. I was not bashing the Federation or anything for that matter.”
Though the Wildlife Federation would not give us a yes or no answer on supporting the pumps now, they did express sorrow for those in the Delta and if experts come forward with new information they’re willing to listen for any possible plans.
“The past pump project had some things that we’re still concerning,” Barber said. “But we understand that the U.S Army Corp of Engineers is saying that they have some new information that they’re giving to EPA and we like the Delta are eager to see what they’re providing to them.”
Some of that new information is locals and state departments showing virtually all animals who claimed the Delta as their natural habitat dying off from the backwater.
“Wildlife to the extent it existed in the South Delta has been decimated,” Gipson said. “Deer, turkey, bears, whatever people were interested in is dead, drowning, or starving in the South Delta right now.”
“I’ve had alligators, snakes, and fish, jump up and tried to hit me in the head on our boat,” Darden explained. “We never had deer die every day on our route out, but now we do.”
Darden and her team have already raised over $3,000 to prepare for Extravaganza and are expected to join commissioner Gipson’s booth after he offered his spot. She’s expected to have 16 others at the event to spread their message.