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Wildlife Federation intends to sue over Wildlife Extravaganza 2019



A largely empty MWF Extravaganza space at 1:37 p.m. on Sunday afternoon of the "Ganza '19" event last year. (Photo by David Day)

The Mississippi Wildlife Federation announced its intention to sue several state agencies over a dispute connected with its Wildlife Extravaganza of 2019.

The threatened lawsuit says the agencies conspired against MWF “to retaliate against MWF for its political stance on an environmental issue.”

The issue is the Yazoo Backwater Pumps.

“Prior to the 2019 Extravaganza, MWF became aware of a public misperception that the Federation was actively opposing (or otherwise preventing completion of) the installation of pumps at the Steele Bayou Control to push backwater out of the Mississippi Delta,” the organization said in a statement. “Regardless of the accuracy of this misperception, any position taken by the MWF in public was constitutionally protected speech.”

Last July, the Vicksburg Daily News broke a story that Onward farmer Victoria Darden and supporters of finishing the Yazoo Pumps were denied a booth at the Wildlife Extravaganza. As a result of the story, Mississippi’s Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson offered space at the Mississippi Ag/John Deere booth to Darden.

Public support for the people affected by the flood and in support of the pumps quickly snowballed into a grassroots boycott of the ‘Ganza’ event, which Darden said she did not encourage.

Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks canceled its booth, and dozens of other vendors followed suit. Hundreds of Mississippians who had been faithful attendees of former “ganzas” refused to attend.

The result was devastating for the event, which has long been the primary fund raiser for the organization. Throughout the incidents, MWF failed to return calls to the Vicksburg Daily News, although they have since come out in support of completing the pumps.

Now, MWF intends to sue the Foundation for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the Mississippi Fair & Coliseum Commission and others for “violation of constitutional, contractual and property rights” and for a conspiracy “to take over its annual Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza held historically at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, as well as denying MWF access to state owned public space paid for by state and federal public funding,” the organization said in a statement issued Monday.

The threatened suit also names Don Brazil, chief executive officer of FMDWFP; Sam Polles, executive director of MDWFP; Commissioner Gipson and Steve Hutton, former director of the fair commission; and event promoter Jack Fisher.

“In an effort to subvert the efforts of MWF to put on a successful event, four days before last year’s Extravaganza, the MDWFP publicly withdrew its support of and participation in the event and indicated it would withdraw all future support and funding,” MWF states. “Privately, MDWFP employees were informed by Polles, the MDWFP’s executive director, that they were not allowed to attend the event in any capacity, either as a volunteer or for personal enjoyment, and that such attendance (even in plain clothes) would result in the termination of their employment. In the past, MDWFP employees routinely attended the event in support of MWF’s efforts and to provide services where needed, such as scoring buck deer brought in by attendees. At all times, MDWFP acted with clear knowledge of the adverse financial impact that the MWF would incur.”

The statement says the agencies and individuals “conspired to use government power to deprive MWF of its contractual and property rights, and/or to otherwise cause injury to MWF by denying the group use of exhibition space at the State Fairgrounds for its annual Wildlife Extravaganza, as well as access to other public facilities.”

“Litigation is always a last recourse,” said Ashlee Ellis Smith, MWF CEO in its statement. “This conspiracy not only undermined MWF’s efforts to promote conservation and hunting in Mississippi – it denied access for thousands of Mississippians, stripped state employees of their constitutional rights and reveals high- level corruption that affects all taxpayers in the state.”

MWF claims that the agencies met in two secret meetings “to devise a plan to use governmental authority to strip the MWF of its contractual and other rights to lawfully conduct its business on state property. This included but was not limited to MWF’s contractual and other rights to sponsor the Wildlife Extravaganza at the Mississippi Trade Mart.”

“If these individuals are allowed, through secret meetings and hidden agendas, to use their state power to try and economically punish an organization for its stance on a political issue, or to take over a lawful private business enterprise for their economic gain, then every nonprofit and for-profit group in this state will remain in peril of having their constitutional and contractual rights trampled” said Ellis Smith.

For his part, Gipson told the Clarion Ledger that he does not understand why the MWF is taking this course.

“I just had a chance to review the letter,” Gipson said. “It’s full of lies and I don’t know why they would pick this fight.

“I don’t know what they have to gain. I look forward to responding at the proper time.”

Read the complete statement.

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