Ryan Rodenkirch, the newly elected president of the Whitetails of Wisconsin board of directors, knows the deer-farming industry is facing a large obstacle in chronic wasting disease. But, as important as addressing CWD is for the industry, Rodenkirch said the best approach to solving the problem of CWD is for all interested parties to work together.

“Right now, our focus is on research towards a solution to chronic wasting disease,” Rodenkirch said. “As a board, we’re trying to work together with the (Wisconsin Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection) and the Department of Natural Resources to find a solution together.”

Rodenkirch of Rodenkirch Whitetails and Genetics near Beaver Dam was elected president of Whitetails of Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization representing whitetail farmers and hunting preserves in the state of Wisconsin, during the group’s annual banquet and fundraiser April 13 in Warrens.

Rodenkirch has owned Rodenkirch Whitetails and Genetics since 2016. His farm is currently home to 65 adult deer and he is expecting about 40 fawns this spring. Rodenkirch, who has degrees in wildlife management and biology from UW-Stevens Point, got his start in the industry feeding fawns as part of an internship in 2010.

“I’m a lifelong hunter, and I’ve been obsessed with whitetails almost since before I could walk,” Rodenkirch said.

According to the group’s website, Whitetails of Wisconsin’s mission is to promote Wisconsin’s whitetail deer farmers and the specialty livestock industry. The group’s goal is to help educate anyone interested in raising whitetail deer and share information regarding whitetail deer breeding, production and health care. Whitetails of Wisconsin is also active in lobbying state legislative and government departments.

Richard Vojtik, who preceded Rodenkirch as WOW president, said at the April 8 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Spring Hearing in Eau Claire that WOW was committed to finding a solution for chronic wasting disease.

Vojtik, a deer farmer from near Fairchild whose herd returned a CWD positive test, submitted a citizen resolution at the Eau Claire County meeting, calling for greater cooperation between deer farmers, who are regulated under the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the DNR on finding a solution for CWD.

“(Whitetails of Wisconsin has) been doing a lot of research on genetic resistance like they do with scrapie (a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system) in sheep,” Vojtik said. “There are other solutions coming down the road, and we’re trying to find them, but it’s funding.

“Right now, in the deer industry, we’re spending a lot of money trying to find a solution because it’s our livelihood.”

According to DATCP, Wisconsin is home to 384 deer farms, 69 of which are also registered as hunting ranches. As of March 1, 169 of the state’s deer farms are enrolled in the CWD herd status program. Since 2001, there have been 26 farms that have returned a positive test for CWD and 15 herds have been depopulated because of the disease.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has monitored CWD distribution and prevalence in Wisconsin since the disease was discovered in the state’s wild deer population in 2002. Since 2002, more than 227,000 deer have been sampled for CWD statewide with more than 5,200 testing positive.

“The state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on CWD, and we’re still cutting heads off deer to do the testing,” Rodenkirch said. “We have to keep trying to figure something out. There are still a lot of unknowns about the disease, and as our industry moves ahead, we’re trying to solve it.

“We care about deer outside our farms too. What we do with our private herds, we’d like it to benefit wild deer as well.”