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Mississippi agency boycotts wildlife group over pump stance

July 31, 2019

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi state agency and some vendors are boycotting a hunting event, saying the sponsor isn’t doing enough to support building a pumping station to combat flooding in part of the Mississippi Delta.

The Mississippi Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks voted Monday to withdraw the department it runs from the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s annual Wildlife Extravaganza, which begins Friday, as well as all future federation events until further notice.

“The Wildlife Federation is not supporting the pumps and we are,” commission Chairman Scott Coopwood of Cleveland told the Clarion Ledger .

The short-notice vote came after Gov. Phil Bryant chided the nonprofit federation on Twitter on Saturday for not renting a booth to Victoria Darden, an Onward farmer seeking pumps for the south Delta. The area floods when the Mississippi River is high because floodgates close to prevent the even higher river from backing up, meaning water can’t drain out. A planned pumping station was vetoed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as harmful to wetlands and wildlife in 2008. This year’s long and extensive flooding brought a renewed push for a federally built pumping station.

“It’s a crying shame our own STATE wildlife federation doesn’t care about the people or the animals living in it,” Darden wrote on Facebook.

Federation board member Elizabeth Barber said Darden was initially denied because the federation was out of space. She said Tuesday that the organization made attempts to reach Darden this week.

A farm equipment dealer now tells The Vicksburg Post that it will give its booth to Darden.

“It’ll be about them. It’s about finishing the pumps,” said Jamie Swafford, marketing manager for John Deere dealer Mississippi Ag. “It just all came together to allow her to be our voice.”

Although Darden declined an interview with Tuesday, John Terry, an Eagle Lake resident who has joined Darden in advocating for pumps, said he appreciates the support and seeks only to spread the message of pump supporters.

“We want to let them know the wildlife that are dying, the wetlands that are being destroyed,” Terry said. “This is disrupting people’s livelihoods.”

Proponents say pumps can preserve habitat and note that this year’s flooding has been devastating to deer and other animals displaced on levees and in other areas. Opponents say the project costing hundreds of millions of dollars is a boondoggle to benefit large farmers and it would inevitably dry out one of the region’s largest wetland complexes.

On Tuesday, Bryant wrote on Twitter that the Mississippi group and the larger National Wildlife Federation have drifted to “climate change ideology.”

The Mississippi federation said last week in a letter that it had opposed the pumps in the past because it believed the design “did not support the promises that were made to find effective solutions to the south Delta’s flooding problems.” However, the Mississippi federation said it has changed its position and wants a study of options to reduce flooding and preserve wetlands throughout the Mississippi River valley. “Pumps may be part of the solution if they do not eliminate or degrade wetlands,” the group wrote.

“We would never want anyone to suffer the way they’ve suffered,” said Jeanne Jones, president of the federation’s board of directors. “Our position is we’re listening. That’s what we think we should be doing.”

Some, though, aim to punish the federation by dampening its biggest annual fundraiser.

“This is how sportsmen can make their wishes known with their money,” Randy Wallace of Raymond said. He said he has been to every Wildlife Extravaganza for nearly 30 years but won’t attend this one.

Turkey caller Preston Pittman said his two companies won’t exhibit at the show.

“It is our feeling that MWF has forgotten their roots and who they exist to serve,” Pittman wrote on Facebook. “The time for lip service and to ‘study the situation’ has long past.”

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