Ninemile Ranger District home to 200 horses, mules for winter

In winter, the lower Ninemile Valley is home to more than 200 Forest Service horses and mules who spend summers on ranger districts throughout the Northern Region. (U.S. Forest Service)

The U.S. Forest Service’s iconic Ninemile Ranger Station has a few hundred extra residents this winter – horses and mules it is pasturing for the cold months for other ranger districts regionwide.

Visitors will see the pack animals on pasture land in the lower Ninemile Valley throughout the winter.

Initially, that means one road closure.

The Ninemile District has closed the Stony Creek Cutoff Road (Forest Service Road 5490) so the anmals can use the adjacent Civilian Conservation Corps pasture to graze.

Using the CCC pasture allows rotation and recovery for other pastures, as well as the opportunity to utilize the current forage available in the CCC pasture, officials said.

The Stony Creek Road bisects the pasture and the closure will allow animals to graze without vehicle traffic or conflicts. The adjacent Butler Loop Road will be used as a detour and signs will be placed to direct traffic.

The detour will not affect access to any private or FS lands.

This road closure will be rescinded once snowfall accumulates and the pasture can no longer be effectively grazed.

The Ninemile Ranger District feeds and cares for more than 200 head of Forest Service mules and horses through the regional Winter Boarding Program each year.

The animals come from across the Northern Region, which includes Montana, parts of Idaho and the Dakota Prairie Grassland.

After spending the winter in the Ninemile, the horses and mules will return to their Forest Service home districts across the Northern Region where they spend an active summer supporting trails, wilderness, range and law enforcement work.