In 2019, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s annual Extravaganza imploded over bad press and a social media campaign that obliterated sponsorship. At issue was the MWF’s opposition to the Yazoo Pumps at Steele Bayou. The South Delta was experiencing the worst flooding in a lifetime and the pumps, many believed, would have alleviated the severity of the flood.
When Onward farmer Victoria Darden was denied a booth at the Extravaganza for her “Finish the Pumps” group, a maelstrom of the press, social media posts (including one from then-Governor Phil Bryant), scared off sponsors for the Extravaganza. As a result, the Extravaganza and the MWF suffered their worst year in their history.
The Finish the Pumps group was eventually given space for the event by the MWF but it was too late. A few months after the failed Extravaganza, Ashlee Smith joined the MWF as their CEO and was tasked with rebuilding an organization that was dead in the water, shot down by the very hunting community in Mississippi they were organized to support.
In an exclusive interview with The Vicksburg Daily News, CEO Ashlee Smith agreed to discuss the upcoming 2021 Extravaganza. “We are trying really hard to get the foundation back to its roots,” started Smith. “We were founded in 1946 by sportsmen, hunters focused on hunting and fishing life, teaching kids to get outdoors, to enjoy wildlife, enjoy outdoors. I think we drifted off for a while, from our mission, and we have tried to bring board members on board who are focused on that original mission. I think we are making good progress.”
The upcoming Extravaganza hasn’t officially been announced, but the Vicksburg Daily News has confirmed it will happen in Flowood on July 30 — August 1 at the brand-new Flowood Refuge and Resort Conference Center. The MWF will send out a news release next week, according to Smith. Promoters working on behalf of the MWF have already taken to social media to alert vendors of the event.
The lack of support for the event by hunters and vendors due to the blowup over the pumps in 2019 remains a threat for the 2021 Extravaganza. However, CEO Smith went right to the heart of the issue and noted the new plan by the Corp of Engineers to move the pumps to Deer Creek was a winner.
Smith said of the new Yazoo Backwater Pump Project that the MWF was “…really pleased with the new project. It’s better in every single way than the old project. We’re excited the EPA has greenlit the project.”
Smith then went on to address the lawsuit against the Yazoo Pump Project by four prominent national conservation groups, saying “They’re not Mississippi groups, and have filed the lawsuit against the EPA. …I think their lawsuit does not have merit because it is clearly a new project.” Smith continued “It’s an entirely different project and it’s entirely better. For me, it’s a no-brainer.”
When challenged by the Vicksburg Daily News to offer a clear and concise statement on the position of the MWF regarding the new pumps, Smith stated:
“We are fully supportive of the new Yazoo Backwater Pump Project because it is so much better than the old project.”
After Smith made that clear and concise position statement, the Vicksburg Daily News spoke with 4 of the primary members of the “Finish the Pumps” group to get their response to that statement by Smith.
Mississippi farmer Clay Adcock said, “I think Ashlee is doing a remarkable job and I think I can speak for the largest portion of the Finish the Pumps group when I say we will support the MWF and the MWF Extravaganza.”
Sportsman extraordinaire Jeff Terry echoed Adcock’s words adding “We all want the same thing and we are all working toward the same goal. I am glad to put this all behind us and move forward. I’ll be at the Extravaganza and would like to invite my friends to attend and support the MWF.”
The young farmer at the heart of all this, Victoria Darden, was glad to put an end to the disagreement with the MWF and the Extravaganza, saying “I support the MWF and encourage people to support the Extravaganza.”
“I am happy to hear that they have confirmed [the pumps] publicly and I am happy to support the new Wildlife Extravaganza,” remarked Ann Dahl with the Finish the Pumps group. Dahl went on to say “Them offering up booth space would be a kind gesture of their support.” Dahl has researched tirelessly to provide data about the pump project. Her blog, FinishThePumps.com has been cited as a resource for those interested in learning about the 80-year-old project.
This year the MWF will host the Extravaganza on July 30 through August 1 at the Refuge Resort and Concert Center in Flowood.
If you are interested in being a vendor that information can be found here.
Tickets for the event should go on sale soon.