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MWF Extravaganza under water



"Empty chairs at empty tables where my friends will meet no more." - Marius, Les Miserable

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for the Mississippi Wildlife Federation. Its big annual fundraising event, nicknamed “Ganza ’19” this year, didn’t help make the past week get much better.


The crowds were way down from prior years, the vendors were not happy with how the weekend went, and all the focus seems to be on Victoria Darden and her efforts to finish the Yazoo pumps.


Jeff Terry, Victoria Darden and Richard McRae discuss the #finishthepumps effort

Usually, the event, which has marked the unofficial start of hunting season in Mississippi, features a packed house for three days with high energy and lots of fun for the kids. The annual MWF Wildlife Extravaganza is usually a great way for mom and pop vendors to showcase their wares, widen their exposure to a big Mississippi audience and make extra money.

This year, it looks to have been a bust. Every vendor that spoke with the Vicksburg Daily News on Sunday said their sales were way down. Some admitted to not being able to cover their booth rental and weekend expenses.


A largely vacant MWF Extravaganza space on Sunday afternoon at 1:41 p.m.

One of the smaller vendors, Patricia Nussbaum from the Coast, was downright angry about the controversy that caused many vendors to withdraw from the event. When asked about the turnout, she launched into a tirade on the “Finish the Pumps” folks located just over her shoulder. “They’re not the only ones that have felt the effects of the flooding,” Nussbaum said. “Everyone is seeing the effects of it, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to go out and make others suffer the consequences.” The low attendance meant a loss of income for vendors, including her and her husband, Mike.

The Nussbaums were packing up their booth to leave early when the Vicksburg Daily News asked what “finish the pumps” meant to them. “I don’t care about the damn pumps,” Mike Nussbaum said angrily. “How many times are you going to get flooded before you move out? You know, why are you bringing this on everyone else? It’s costing all of these vendors in here money.”

Another booth operator, who didn’t want his name used for fear of reprisal, said, “This is my fifth year here, and it is always a big moneymaker for me–one of my biggest of the year. This year I didn’t even cover the cost of my booth.”


A largely empty MWF Extravaganza space at 1:37 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

Fear of reprisal seemed to be a theme of this year’s extravaganza vendors.

Many vendors were upset by rumors that they had been placed on a list by the “Boycott MWF and the Wildlife Extravaganza” Facebook group. The group, which has roughly 1,500 members, formed a week ago on July 28. At the time of this story, the “Boycott MWF” group did not have any posts advocating for boycotting vendors who attended the event.

The group does have plenty of information on the vendors that pulled out, however, and has encouraged its members to support them. “[We] have been told that the vendors that paid and are withdrawing do not get their money back,” one post states. “If that’s the case these people are putting their money where their mouth is and deserve our support.”

It is unknown who formed the “Boycott” group.

Vicksburg Daily News asked Victoria Darden, the young farmer from Onward who has become the face of the “finish the pumps” effort, her thoughts on the group. “I am truly sorry for [the vendors] lost revenue this weekend,” Darden said. “I didn’t ever encourage the boycott because I understand the effect it has. But I appreciate the vendors that did pull out in support of us.”


Victoria Darden at the MWF Extravaganza on Sunday afternoon, August 4, 2019.

For Darden, it is an important distinction.

Darden wanted to attend the event so she could inform people about the reasons for the flooding in the South Delta and its effect on people and wildlife, in addition to increase support for finishing the pumps. Outgoing MWF Executive Director Lindsay Lemmons denied Darden a booth after initially being agreeable to the request. Darden says Lemmons only turned her down after Darden told her why she wanted the booth, saying that it was “… the discretion of the promoter of the event to make those selections.” MWF is publicly against finishing the pumping station, as are many other wildlife and conservation groups including the Environmental Protection Agency, which vetoed their completion in 2008.

The denial led to a maelstrom of angry reactions from the community, including dozens of vendors pulling out of the MWF event. The boycotts negatively affected everyone at the event this year.


The mostly empty parking lot at the MWF Extravaganza on Sunday afternoon at 1:29 p.m.

After the strong public response, the MWF invited Darden and her “Finish the Pumps” group (which is not the “boycott MWF” Facebook group) back into the event. By that time, she had accepted an offer from Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture & Commerce Andy Gipson to join the event in the Mississippi Ag/John Deere booth.

Now the challenge for the “Finish the Pumps’ folks is to continue to inform their fellow Mississippians and the nation about the flood and its effects. It wants people to understand that the U.S. Corps of Engineers plan to alleviate flooding in the South Delta had been underway for several decades and included building levees and channels to force the water to Steele Bayou. A pumping station to move water out of the bayou is a vital part of the plan. In 2008, the EPA vetoed the pumping station under pressure from environmental groups including the MWF and its parent organization, the National Wildlife Federation. Without the pumps, the South Delta will continue to flood because of the man-made levees and channels.

The ‘Finish the Pumps’ group wants to let people know that their disagreement with the MWF is specifically over the MWF’s opposition to the pump project.

MWF’s challenge is to exist in an environment that has turned hostile.

The Mississippi Wildlife Federation is wounded. The organization has lost the support of a large number of sports men and women. Its main fundraiser this year, the Wildlife Extravaganza, seems to have been a bust, and its value to the community is in question.

If this year’s Extravaganza is an indication, the MWF’s future looks as bleak as a starving deer in the Great Backwater Flood of 2019.

Melissa Lum Lyons caught this photo of a starving deer on the 465 Levee.


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