The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been working to rebuild its relationships with its constituents since director Marc Miller took over late last winter. Now the agency is rebuilding its connections with the federal government by hiring John Rogner, an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to be its new assistant director.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been working to rebuild its relationships with its constituents since director Marc Miller took over late last winter.

Now the agency is rebuilding its connections with the federal government by hiring John Rogner, an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to be its new assistant director.

Part of his job will be to serve as a liaison with the Fish and Wildlife Service. DNR receives about $16 million in grants from the Fish and Wildlife Service annually, and the money has to be spent on fish and wildlife restoration and projects related to hunting and fishing.

Rogner also will be in charge of youth recruitment and retention and take over some duties left vacant by the retirement of longtime administrator Mike Conlin, who leaves at the end of this month.

Rogner is on unpaid leave from the Fish and Wildlife Service to serve as the assistant director on contract for two years. He served as director of the Chicago field office and has 25 years experience on the federal level.

He will earn $124,600 annually at DNR.

“It allows him to go back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after he is finished here, so he won’t lose his place,” says DNR spokesman Chris McCloud. “It’s done all the time. Fish and Wildlife can loan its resources, including employees, to state governments for a certain period of time.”

Illinois was in hot water with the feds last year when the General Assembly voted to sweep special funds, including those that are repositories for hunting and fishing licenses, stamps and fees.

License dollars can’t be used to pay the state’s bills, and Illinois was warned to put the money back or risk losing its $16 million share of federal funds.

Eventually, the money — the state’s share of a federal excise tax on firearms, shotgun shells, archery equipment and other sporting goods — was restored to its proper place. But not until the patience of Illinois’ federal partner was worn thin.

“The department’s relationship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had been strained before director Miller got here,” McCloud says. “John will help facilitate an even better relationship with our federal partner. His relationships on the federal level will help us greatly.”

“Marc sees the critical relationship between the state and federal programs,” Rogner says. “Bringing me in would be a way to shore up and maintain that relationship.”

Bob Becker, president of the Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources — representing a number of sportsmen’s groups — says Rogner is a good choice.

“This is a fine young man from Chicago that can get DNR back on track, in good graces, and keep the federal funding coming in to Illinois,” he says. “It’s probably a good move and one that Marc Miller needs and the governor needs right now.”

Becker says Rogner can help inform legislators about the rules and regulations governing state and federal dollars that are generated by sportsmen.

If DNR’s requested fee increases take effect, there will be more license, stamp and fee money to tempt lawmakers.

“He can help educate the legislators over and above,” Becker says. “I think (hiring Rogner) is a smart move. The dedicated funds are a major issue.

“And DNR needs those fee increases as long as they handle it right and (lawmakers) don’t try to sweep it or take it away,” he says. “I don’t think any of the major hunting or fishing organizations have a problem with the fee increases because they are long overdue — as long as they are used properly.”

Rogner says part of his job will be to communicate DNR’s mission to members of the General Assembly.

“I expect I will meet with lawmakers to help them understand what we are; what we do, and what the limitations are,” he says. “It’s kind of like Conservation 101.”

Rogner says DNR has some latitude in deciding how to use license and fee money, but needs to be on the same page as the Fish and Wildlife Service. In an era of declining state revenues, administrators are looking very closely to see how they can stretch restricted funds to cover as many expenses as allowed.

“In these tough fiscal times, it is important to take advantage of every nickel that’s available,” Rogner says. “But still, we must work within the limits of the law.

“We just need to be sure we are clear as to what these limits are.”

Rogner will be splitting his time between Springfield and Chicago. He lives in Elgin.

With responsibilities ranging from youth programs to federal programs to assuming duties of a retiring administrator, new jobs keep rushing his way.

“A friend sent me a note yesterday asking, ‘How do you like trying to sip from a fire hose?’”

Chris Young can be reached at chris.young@sj-r.com.

Meet John D. Rogner

Job: assistant director, Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Age: 55
Salary: $124,600
Previous experience: supervisor of the Chicago Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1998; chairs Chicago Regional Biodiversity Council
Education: Bachelor’s degree (1977) and master’s degree (1981) in biological sciences from Northern Illinois University