Jim Sweeney
Izaak Walton League of America
Schererville, Indiana

As a line walker for Lakehead Pipeline Company, Jim Sweeney would often walk the entire pipeline right-of-way between Elgin, Illinois, and Merrillville, Indiana. Most of the right-of-way consisted of farm fields, forests, wetlands, and other open space. During those walks, he developed an interest in the nature around him. As he learned about local population trends of many species of wildlife, his new environmental concerns motivated him to protect what he saw. He joined several national organizations and devoured nature programs on television, and he quickly realized that wetlands were incredibly important and under-appreciated. When he learned the dramatic statistic that 87 percent of Indiana’s wetlands already have been destroyed, a wetland advocate was born.

In 1991, he and an informal coalition of bird watchers, hunters, and other wetland lovers formed Wetland Watch, which reaches out to the community by distributing information, reporting illegal wetland fills, educating students, and making presentations. Mr. Sweeney also leads an effort to restore part of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, once 500,000 acres of marshes, hardwood swamps, oxbow lakes, and meadows. He has led volunteer efforts to promote a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal for a new 30,000-acre Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana and Illinois, and he co-founded the Friends of the Kankakee. Mr. Sweeney is currently president of the Griffith County chapter of the Izaak Walton League and is president of Izaak Walton Conservation Lands, Inc., which acquires valuable wetlands and protects them with permanent conservation easements.

— Stan Adams, Izaak Walton League of America, Four Oaks, North Carolina