Martin Weeks
Vermillion, South Dakota

Martin Weeks has proven himself to be a tireless protector of his region’s wetlands. The prairie pothole region in eastern South Dakota, despite years of drainage, still includes more than 1.5 million acres of wetlands. The area is drained by a number of small but richly diverse prairie river watersheds. Two of these watersheds — the Vermillion and the James — have been the object of most of Weeks’ work as a volunteer lawyer and advocate for wetlands protection.

A World War II veteran, Weeks resides on the farm that his grandfather homesteaded. A born environmentalist, he has shown his dedication to wetlands protection and environmental causes within his community, gladly accepting the consequences. In the 1960s, the Vermillion River was scheduled for channelization, which would have drained a vast amount of acreage across the state. With his neighbors, Weeks led a battle to successfully protect the river from channelization. When farmers in the Dakotas later feared the destructive potential of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Oahe Irrigation Project, Weeks was the one lawyer in the state willing to represent them. The project was designed to channelize the James River and would have destroyed a large area of the pothole region. Weeks, joined by the United Family Farmers, fought this "Great Dakota Water War" for years, volunteering the majority of his time. Through Weeks’ determination and dedication, the project was successfully halted.

— John H. Davidson, South Dakota University School of Law Land Stewardship and Development