Conservation organization says its rights were violated
The Mississippi Wildlife Federation has announced its intention to file a lawsuit against state agencies, private organizations and top executives over losing the opportunity to lease the Mississippi Trade Mart the first weekend of August for its annual Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza.
The MWF, an affiliate of the private conservation organization, the National Wildlife Federation, released a press announcement on April 27 outlining its intentions.
“The Mississippi Wildlife Federation (MWF) has issued its Notice of Claim with intent to sue the Foundation for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the Mississippi Fair and Coliseum Commission and others for violation of constitutional, contractual and property rights for conspiring 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 Notice of Claim, sent April 24 by the law firm of Pittman, Roberts & Welsh, PLLC on behalf of MWF, also names Don Brazil, chief executive officer of Foundation of MDWFP; Sam Polles, executive director of MDWFP; Andy Gipson, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce; Steve Hutton, former director of the fair commission; and event promoter Jack Fisher.
As part of its suit, the MWF said the groups and individuals conspired to punish the organization for its stance on the Yazoo Backwater Pumps, resulting in MWF losing its long-standing event date at the Mississippi Trade Mart for the Extravaganza, which is the organization’s primary fund-raiser and, until 2019, drew an estimated 30,000 in attendance each year. It has operated for 33 years and has been considered the unofficial start of the hunting season for three decades.
What happened last year
The event crumbled last year. In 2019, backwater flooding in the South Delta was catastrophic, and the MWF’s opposition to the Yazoo Pump project led to exhibitor and public boycotts of the Extravaganza. It began falling apart, the MWF said, when the MDWFP withdrew its support and canceled its exhibit.
This year, the building and the date were made unavailable for the Extravaganza, with an outdoor show sponsored by the Foundation for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks scheduled in its place.
The MWF, which has since stated that the pumps are possibly an environmentally safe solution to backwater flooding, feels the loss of its position at the Mississippi Trade Mart, as well as other events, is the result of conspiracy. The organization also alleges that state employees were told not to attend MWF events or volunteer.
“Litigation is always a last recourse,” Ashlee Ellis Smith, MWF’s CEO, told The Clarion-Ledger. “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.”
Gipson, commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the agency that oversees the Trade Mart, told the newspaper that he does not understand the MWF’s action after reviewing its announcement.
“I just had a chance to review the letter; it’s full of lies, and I don’t know why they would pick this fight,” he said. “I don’t know what they have to gain. I look forward to responding at the proper time.”
The Foundation for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is a private group that supports the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
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