Troubled Extravaganza opens today

Event caught in Yazoo pump controversy

For 32 years, the Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza was eagerly awaited by thousands of Mississippi men, women and kids — so much so that the event became known as the unofficial opening of the hunting season.

This year, not so much, which is a growing problem and publicity nightmare for the sponsoring Mississippi Wildlife Federation.

When the 33rd annual Extravaganza opens today at 2 p.m., it will do so under a very dark cloud involving the Federation’s controversial stance — past and present — against the completion of the “Yazoo Pumps” in Mississippi’s South Delta, which has suffered catastrophic flooding this year.

The Federation has long opposed the project, the final phase of a complex system designed to prevent backwater flooding in areas north of Vicksburg. That stance, along with its refusal last week to lease Extravaganza space to victims of the flood, has led to about 20 percent of its regular exhibitors to back out of the event, and to calls of a boycott to lower the attendance.

The Extravaganza is the Federation’s main source of revenue, drawing booth fees from approximately 210 exhibitors and ticket fees of $10 per head for the annual attendance of 30,000.

The South Delta

Backwater flooding, which many believe would have been alleviated by installation of the pumps,  has severely impacting over 500,000 acres for seven months, causing extreme hardships for residents and a totally lost season for farmers. It has also decimated wildlife habitat, and pictures and accounts of starving wildlife, including deer, have been widely circulated.

“What most people don’t understand is that without the pumps the levees that were built created a big problem for us in the South Delta,” said Jeff Terry, a former guide at Tara Wildlife, who hunts and farms 1,000 acres at Eagle Lake that are mostly flooded. “The levees were built to keep the river from backing up into the area, but what it did was create a bowl that captures and holds rainfall, and we have been hit with record rains since November.

“The final part of the system was supposed to be the pumps to get the water out, and without them, the levees have created a very bad situation. All that aside, that’s not what created this call for a boycott. It was the way they handled the booth request for us to state our case and explain the misinformation about the pump impact. That was the proverbial straw.”

MDWFP withdraws

The cancellations began about 10 days before the event, with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks withdrawing. A major part of their reasoning was, as their press release said, the public’s inability to differentiate between the state agency and the privately held Mississippi Wildlife Federation.

Longtime participants Primos Game Calls, Preston Pittman/Long Leaf Camo and others quickly followed suit. Major sponsors Pennington Seeds and Chevrolet pulled out this week. Social media pressure increased, calling for the public to not attend the event.

“For the first time in over 30 years, I won’t be going,” said Ken White of Jackson, an avid sportsman. “This will be the first one I will not attend, and it’s a combination of their long-held stance on the pumps and then the entire soap opera that played out this week. They (Federation) didn’t handle this well, not at all. They did exactly the opposite of what they should have done.

“Until they admit their mistakes and make amends, I will no longer support them or their shows.”

The 33rd annual Wildlife Extravaganza is open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

About Bobby Cleveland 1342 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.