The new middle school in northwest Spokane won’t be ready for two more years, but it already has an unofficial mascot: the osprey.
It’s fierce and graceful and isn’t going away anytime soon, thanks to federal law and the earnest wishes of Spokane Public Schools.
As the district began demolition of Joe Albi Stadium last month, workers began with the light poles. One by one they were inspected. Then they reached the northwest corner of the stadium and found a pole with a penthouse suite fashioned out of sticks, grass and sod.
Crews also discovered the tenants: an osprey chick and its two parents, who acted as if they own the place. They also play great defense, another inspiration for football players whenever they get around to playing again.
“The mom and dad are very protective,” said Greg Forsyth, director of capital projects for Spokane Public Schools. “They flew around us and screeched when we were inspecting the light pole, and we respected that.”
So do the federal government and the state of Washington.
Discovery of the osprey nest drew the attention of activist Craig Gerlack of Spokane, who had sought to preserve the 70-year-old stadium on the grounds that it was dedicated as a veterans’ memorial.
Gerlack contacted the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which made it clear that demolition of the light pole can’t proceed if the nest contains an egg or chick. However, the nest isn’t slowing the rest of the project.
Ospreys are a federally protected species, as the city of Spokane learned in 2018 as it renovated the U.S. Pavilion on the Expo ’74 grounds.
It’s illegal under state low to “maliciously destroy the eggs or nests of protected birds” without a permit from Fish and Wildlife. The department also frowns on disturbing active nests during the nesting season, which typically runs from late March to early September.
However, nests may be disturbed outside the nesting season, with coordination with the local wildlife officials.
That’s just what the school district plans to do even as demolition continues.
“We’ve informed them what we’re doing, and they said we’re doing things the right way,” Forsyth said.
“Our landscape architecture contractor (SPVV Landscape Architects of Spokane) contacted some experts and have put together a plan to mitigate any impact on the osprey,” Forsyth said.
The district also is relying on recommendations from Towey Ecological Services of Cheney, which offered several recommendations on how to not only safely remove the osprey nest, but how to encourage the birds to not move too far away.
In a letter to SPVV, Towey noted that “There are quite a few trees available near the river, the osprey may find a suitable nest tree if they are deterred from the stadium lights.”
The district plans to encourage the process by having Avista Utilities install a pole with a platform.
The district will rely on the experts, Forsyth said.
“Their thoughts were the nest will be empty by mid-September. At that time we should have an updated plan and relocation options for our Osprey friends,” Forsyth said. “Our goal would become a neighbor of ours.”
If all goes well, by 2022, the district will have few more osprey nests overhead along with a new stadium and middle school.
“It’s kind of exciting, and a cool educational opportunity for the kids if the osprey come back to the same area,” Forsyth said.
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