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Sheep returning to Missoula to help control noxious weeds

Missoula Sheep
Posted at 3:57 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-21 17:44:16-04

MISSOULA - Sheep will be returning to Missoula this summer to help control noxious weeds control on City Open Space.

Limited areas on the North Hills and Mount Jumbo will be temporarily closed to dogs starting June 20 as about 800 sheep graze on invasive species like dalmatian toadflax, leafy spurge, and spotted knapweed. Hiking without pets is permitted during dog closures. Visit trailheads and for closure maps and more information.

Targeted grazing is a low-cost, effective way to control weeds and helps reduce reliance on chemical herbicides on City open space, says Conservation Lands Manager Jeff Gicklhorn. Grazing areas are completely closed to dogs this year because of the size of the sheep herd and the risks to both sheep and domestic dogs.

“At over 800 head, this by far the largest grazing project the City has ever undertaken,” Gicklhorn explained. “In the past, we’ve had maybe 100-200 sheep on open space lands. With a herd this large, the potential for injury to both sheep and domestic dogs increases exponentially."

The initial North Hills temporary dog closure includes the Froelich (Orange and I-90), Waterworks, and Mountain View trailheads from approximately June 20 to July 10. The Waterworks trailhead remains closed for construction but should re-open by mid-July. During the temporary closure, dogs are permitted at the North Hills Sunlight Lands trailheads but must be under excellent voice recall or leashed. Later in July and into August, the herd will move to the Sunlight lands and then Mount Jumbo’s southern face and Saddle area. Missoula Animal Control will help enforce the closures.

Gicklhorn encourages residents to comply with the dog closures to keep their pets and the sheep safe.

“The grazing program is a cost-effective, sustainable way to control noxious weeds on conservation lands and encourage the beneficial and beautiful wildflowers and native grasses we all enjoy. By working together, residents, pet owners and land managers can save money, preserve the natural landscape, and reduce the need for chemical herbicides,” he says. Residents can call 911 to report closure violations and are encouraged to note vehicle license plates of violators if possible.