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Sheep employed against noxious weeds in Missoula

Posted at 10:07 AM, Jun 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-22 12:07:23-04

MISSOULA - Managing invasive weeds on the hills surrounding Missoula is an enormous task which is why the city has hired more than 800 employees to fix the problem.

“We have pretty much every noxious weed on the state invasive species list, plus many, many more,” said Missoula Conservation Lands Manager Jeff Gicklhorn.

Waterworks Hill is too steep for maintenance vehicles, and spraying herbicides from the air would kill invasive weeds, but also the native flowers.

Missoula has found the solution by hiring 800 sheep for the task.

Gicklhorn says the animals are voracious weed hunters.

“They will go after those species with reckless abandon and graze them down to the ground,” he said.

Hailing from a ranch in Dillon, the sheep love to eat the flowers of noxious weeds which prevents the weeds from crowding out the native plants.

Working on the hillside, a shepherd and his sheepdogs move the mowers in the right direction.

The dogs are the reason for a temporary ban on pets on Waterworks Hill. Sheepdogs will attack any nearby predator and could kill a pet dog.

Hikers can still use the trail, but Gicklhorn asks that they give the sheep some space.

“It's important that folks think about that and respect those rules that are there for a reason. Because that really helps us manage appropriately, and really conserve the landscape that is out here," Gicklhorn said.

The program is funded by the 2018 Conservation Lands Mill Levy, and Gicklhorn said this type of work is exactly what voters wanted - a sustainable solution for improving the land.

The sheep should be cleared off of Waterworks Hill in two to three weeks, just in time for the new trailhead to open. The next target will be Mount Jumbo.



Additional information from the City of Missoula:

  • Over 800 sheep are grazing to control noxious weeds on City open space.
  • Grazing areas are temporarily closed to dogs while sheep are present.
  • The closure protects both sheep and pets.
  • Approximately June 20 to July 10: North Hills temporary dog closure includes the Froelich (Orange and I-90), Waterworks, and Mountain View trailheads.  Closure map
  • 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. Call 911 to report violators.