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Seeley Lake students build platform to relocate osprey nest

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SEELEY LAKE — Neither snow nor a power outage could put a damper on the spirits of Patti Bartlett Gladstone's seventh- and eighth-grade classes as they prepped an area just off Highway 83 for the relocation of an osprey nest from a live power pole.

With assistance from a crew with the Missoula Electric Cooperative, the Seeley Lake Elementary students withstood the cold and looked on as the 45 foot-pole, adorned with a platform the students built, was put in place.

"The most important thing in my life is to create better stewards of the land," the math and science teacher said. "So if I can connect kids to landscape, that's the best thing we can do." 

While she thought a Monday power outage caused by a tree falling on a power line might derail the plans, Bartlett Gladstone was never concerned about the weather. 

"It's Seeley Lake, we'd do it no matter if it's raining or sun or snowing. It's just the way it is," she said. And, she called Missoula Electric Cooperative at 5 a.m. to make sure they had a crew available for the planned work.

The land on which the pole was erected, about 50 yards north of the original nest location, was donated for use by the Pyramid Mountain Lumber Inc. President Roger Johnson, who said it was an easy decision to make. 

"We are very involved in the community and do what we can to help the kids," Johnson said. "It's really a small sacrifice." 

The kids beamed with excitement, even though the nest was unable to be moved. That will be done before April when the birds migrate back.

Eighth-grader Sara Stevenson's favorite part of the project was working with her classmates and learning about the bird of prey. 

"I know that ospreys mate for life and their main diet is fish," Stevenson said, adding that's why their nests are near bodies of water. 

The students performed different experiments in class, using multiple materials to build mock nests and platforms and tested them under different weather conditions the birds might encounter.

Ty Castillon, 13, said the idea was to ensure the nest would survive and the osprey would return. 

"We took a dowel, put a lid over it for the nest and pole and everything; seeing what would work," Castillon said. "We put drainage holes and everything and poured water on it." He also said they put weights on the pole to simulate the nest and birds to make sure it could stand. 

Last summer, Bartlett Gladstone took part in the inaugural Wings Over Water program at the University of Montana. Partnered with the Montana Natural History Center, the WOW program brings STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) research into classrooms through an in-depth case study of the osprey, according to their website. 

Program coordinator Jenelle Dowling said Bartlett Gladstone was the first teacher to sign up and one of the most enthusiastic members of the pilot program. Dowling added that they bring teachers to UM for a professional development workshop, having the educators interact with STEM experts and getting involved in research. 

"They come back to their classroom as STEM experts and with a little bit more knowledge on ospreys as well," Dowling said. 

The students have been learning the basics about ospreys and the physics of flight before moving into the biology of the bird later in the spring. Bartlett Gladstone was thankful to all those who helped and was glad her kids got to see the pole and platform put up. 

"If we can see something from beginning to end; you have those connections and I think that's the most important thing," she said. 

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