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William J. Van Devender

It was 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 27. We were in the process of hosting our 6th Annual Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Expo. But this time, we were also meeting at the Emergency Operations Center in Hattiesburg. After reviewing the nine or so models from the National Weather Service and listening to local officials and their request for us to shut down one of the area's largest events of the year, there was no question. That evening we canceled the Expo and moved the vendors out; 12 hours later, the largest public facility north of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and south of Jackson was ready to provide shelter for the thousands of evacuees from New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport and the other numerous cities and towns in the path of Hurricane Katrina.

Little did we know that a storm surge 80 miles wide and 30 feet high was racing to the Gulf Coast. Little did we know that winds of over 150 miles per hour were on their way to the Coast and we would have over 100 mile per hour winds over 200 miles inland.

Katrina did not care if you were poor, wealthy or in the middle. Because of her, 150,000 citizens of Mississippi either lost their home or suffered significant damage to it and 60,000 private forest landowners lost significant amounts of their forest.

When Mississippian William Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize, he said "Man will not merely endure: He will prevail. He is immortal, not because he among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice and endurance." Today, Mr. Faulkner would be proud of our state's spirit, cooperation and help for others.

In this issue of Wildlife Mississippi magazine, we will provide you with a plan of what is needed to restore the largest devastation of fish and wildlife habitat since the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. We will discuss wildfire prevention, forest restoration, controlling invasive species and restoring fish and wildlife habitat.

Without the dedication of our Governor, Haley Barbour, and Mississippi's entire Congressional delegation, much of this would not be possible.

Mississippi has been surviving. We need to help all the victims of Katrina and pray that they take the next step in the hard walk of a new life to get about the business of living.

William J. Van Devender