Conservation at the forefront of Illinois ag agency

The top federal conservation official in Illinois is easily recognized at the many field days and conferences he attends. He’s the one with the long ponytail and gregarious nature. Before the COVID pandemic, he was as likely to be spotted mingling among the farmers he serves as he was sitting at a desk in Springfield.

Ivan Dozier has been state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service since 2012, leading the Illinois arm of the USDA agency. He oversees 260 employees tasked with implementing environmental policies across the state. In that capacity, he must bridge the divide between government regulators and those who work the land.

He is one of eight children raised on a grain and cattle farm in White County, in southeastern Illinois. With a Cherokee ancestry, Dozier is one of two Native American state conservationists (the other is in Washington state). He served on the agency’s civil rights committee and as president of the American Indian/Alaska Native Employees Association.

IFT: None of your siblings got involved in production agriculture. Did you consider going into farming?

DOZIER: I really did. Even when I decided to go to college I thought I might still try to get back and get into farming. None of my other family members did. But that was right at the time when machinery prices were high and I wasn’t willing to get into debt, so I looked at other things to get involved in agriculture.

IFT: But you still had a desire to work in the industry, didn’t you?

DOZIER: Yes. I went to the University of Illinois and got a bachelor’s degree in agronomy. I had done an internship with a seed corn company and thought I might be an agronomist. But as it turned out, there was a temporary position with the Soil Conservation Service (since merged into what became NRCS) near my hometown. I started working there in the spring of 1983 as a soil conservation aide. I ended up mapping soils in Wayne County for a while.

I took a brief break and joined the Army Reserves. I went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic and then to Fort Sam Houston to serve as a medical lab specialist. That turned out to be a good thing. After I got done with that training, it helped me go back to school. I earned a master’s degree from the University of Illinois-Springfield in environmental studies. I moved around quite a bit in various jobs as a soil conservationist. I was a district conservationist and had a three-year stint as an American Indian liaison for the agency. In 2003 I was named assistant state conservationist, and as state conservationist in 2012.

IFT: What does your position entail?

DOZIER: We handle technical assistance and training and oversee the state’s Environmental Quality Incentives program, the Conservation Reserve Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Wetland Reserve Easement program and technical side of CRP. Everything this agency does within the boundary of Illinois is my responsibility.

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IFT: How has the mission of the agency changed over the decades? And will it continue to change?

DOZIER: One of the big things we look primarily at is soil erosion and water quality issues. That was really the focus of the agency for the first 50 years or so. Now nutrient management and nutrient losses are big issues. Conservation is sometimes a moving target. As we learn more about how those farming activities can impact the environment, or they start using a different product or different crop, we focus on those things. A major concern is that farmers continue to have profitable business, but also anticipate what happens off-site.

Things change, and as they change, we may not know exactly what those impacts are. Carbon management was something we would not have said much at all about 10 years ago. Now people are talking about carbon. Farmers are constantly having to adapt in order to be responsible. And I think most of them do try to be responsible.

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IFT: Many environmental regulations that affect farmers are outside the auspices of NRCS, but the agency necessarily gets involved in some ways. One example is Waters of the United States, which is getting a fresh look by the Biden administration. What is your connection to those types of programs?

DOZIER: Some of the rewrite was done by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s not exactly the same as our wetland policies, but they are related. We keep on top of that all the time to make sure we’re giving farmers the best advice. We’re not wetland cops. The way I look at it, our programs are voluntary. People who want to be eligible for USDA benefits, we can have that knowledge of things. We can help them understand to be eligible, or if they do cross the line, how to get back. I can see how frustrating it can be to think they’re getting some relief and clarity and coming back. Those are law of the land, and for everybody, not just farmers.

IFT: What cropping practices do you believe can have the biggest impact on achieving conservation goals?

DOZIER: Cover crops certainly have the ability to impact nutrient losses by helping scavenge the nutrients and make the soil more porous. And still some type of reduced tillage is good. Cover crops have a huge potential not only to deal with nutrient losses, but even with carbon captures. It’s exciting that old things are becoming new again.

IFT: In your opinion, how well is the farm community meeting the goals of conservation targets such as reducing nutrient losses? And what are the chances that those efforts will remain voluntary?

DOZIER: I wish I could say we were doing better. Unfortunately, on nutrient loss, we’re not going in the right direction. There has been a state strategy in place for six years and not much headway. It’s the carrot-and-stick thing, and I hope the stick doesn’t have to come out. Most farmers are good with conservation, and I hope we can get it done that way. I don’t say (mandates) could never happen, because they could. I am still an advocate of voluntary conservation, and I think the farmers can come up with solutions.

See the new Illinois laws that took effect July 1

665 bills

The Democrat-controlled Illinois General Assembly approved 665 bills this legislative session, with the vast majority awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature. 

But, Pritzker has signed 42 bills into law. A handful of those will take effect Jan. 1, 2022, but most went into effect immediately upon signing or will take effect this Thursday.

Here are some notable new laws in effect now or on Thursday that Illinoisans should know. 


Election reform

With pandemic-related delays to U.S. Census redistricting numbers, lawmakers moved back the state’s 2022 primary election from March 15 to June 28. The legislation also makes Election Day a state holiday, requires every county to have at least one universal voting center and allow people to be added to a permanent vote-by-mail list. (SB825)

Photo by Jose M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune

Vote by mail

Some pandemic-induced changes to voting for the 2020 general election, such as vote-by-mail and curbside drop-off, will now be permanent features of future elections. (House Bill 1871)

State legislative redistricting

As they are tasked with doing every 10 years, lawmakers approved new district boundaries for the Illinois House and Senate. The Democrat-drawn maps, which utilized the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey instead of waiting for the decennial census numbers that will arrive later this year, have been challenged in court by Republicans and some other groups. (HB2777)

Photo by Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

Illinois Supreme Court redistricting

The seven-person Illinois Supreme Court’s district boundaries were successfully redrawn for the first time since the 1960s. (SB642)

Photo by Capitol News Illinois

Police reform

There was no more controversial bill that passed this year than House Bill 3653, also known as the SAFE-T Act, which passed during the lame duck session this January. The provisions ending cash bail and requiring all police to wear body cameras will not take effect until 2023 and 2025, respectively. But starting Thursday, police will be required to render aid to the injured, intervene when a fellow officer is using excessive force and and be limited in use of force. It also offers stricter guidelines for the decertification of officers and would allow people to file anonymous complaints of police misconduct. (HB3653)

Payday loans

Lenders are now prohibited from charging more than 36% annual percentage rate on consumer loans. The average rate in Illinois was nearly 300% prior to the law’s signing. (SB1792)

Vaccine lottery

Tucked into the state’s fiscal year 2022 budget is $10 million for a "vaccine lottery." All Illinois residents vaccinated by July 1 will be automatically entered into the contest. It includes $7 million in cash prizes to vaccinated adults, ranging from $100,000 to $1 million, and $3 million in scholarship awards to vaccinated youth. (SB2800)

Photo by Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune

COVID-19 emergency housing

Created guidelines for distributing more than $1 billion in federal stimulus funds for COVID-related housing relief. Also creates automatic sealing of evictions during the pandemic. (SB2877)

Pretrial interest

Victims in personal injury and wrongful death cases will be allowed to collect interest from defendants from the time a lawsuit is filed. It is meant to incentivize settlement of these cases. It was supported by the trial lawyers and opposed by business groups. (SB72)

Casino labor

All casino applicants in Illinois are now required to enter into a project-labor agreement when seeking a new or renewed license. (SB1360)

Crime victims compensation

Provides that a victim’s criminal history or felony status shall not automatically prevent compensation to that victim or the victim’s family. Extends the applicant’s period for submitting requested information to 45 days from 30 days and provides that a final award shall not exceed $45,000, up from $27,000, for a crime committed on or after August 7, 2022. (HB3295)

Electronic signature

Provides that a contract, record, or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability simply because it is in electronic form or an electronic record was used in its formation. Provides that if a law requires a record to be in writing, an electronic record satisfies the law. (SB2176)

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July 5, 2021 at 05:52PM

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