Sheep Grazing on City Open Space, Pet Owners Asked to Help Protect Herd

By BECKY GOODRICH for Missoula Parks and Recreation

Missoula Parks and Recreation is asking dog owners to watch for sheep grazing on City open space, and leash their pets when hiking near the herd.  About 70 sheep will be grazing on noxious weeds in the North Hills for the next several weeks, and the herd may be moved to Mount Jumbo later in the summer.

Grazing is an economical, chemical-free way to manage weeds and restore native plant growth—as long as the sheep can be protected from off-leash dogs. Conservation Lands Manager Morgan Valliant says the city loses several sheep each year to domestic dog attacks.  In recent years, attacks have most frequently occurred near the North Hills Froehlich Trail, located at I-90 and Orange Street.

City of Missoula Requires owners to leash dogs near grazing sheep.Most of the time, Valliant says, the dogs involved in the attacks come to City open space with their owners, and the attacks occur out of the owner’s line of sight. Pet owners are often surprised when their dogs’ predatory instincts cause them to behave aggressively toward livestock. Chasing other animals is a natural instinct in dogs.  Even dogs that are not normally aggressive may attack grazing animals.  For this reason, open space users are required to keep dogs leashed when hiking near the sheep and owners will be cited for “dog-at-large” by if they fail to do so.

In addition, dogs must be under voice restraint on City open space at all times, and must be leashed in parking lots, 200 yards from all trailheads and where posted.  Please report violations to Missoula Animal Control at 541-7387.  Pet owners are also required to remove their pet’s waste from all parks, trails and open space.

If Animal Control officers are unavailable, please note the date, time, location and parties involved in any incident involving dogs on open space and report to Missoula Parks and Recreation at 552-6253.  Courts can levy fines up to $275 for a “dog at large” citation, and restitution can include all veterinary and transportation expenses and the replacement value of the sheep.

Valliant says using grazing sheep to control weeds is a good deal for open space users.  “The alternative to grazing is herbicides.  The sheep help us manage weeds on over 1000 acres without using chemicals.  We’re asking for the public’s help in this very narrow time frame (three to four weeks) to control their dogs and let the sheep herd do its work.”