Good fences make good birds 

Concern for the safety of ospreys nesting on a platform beyond Ogren Park’s centerfield led to the installation of a 4-foot chain-link fence this spring, a ballpark managerial move that has Missoulians pitching a fit. Well, make that Missoulian.

The sole voice of criticism over Missoula Osprey co-owner Matt Ellis’ effort to protect the ospreys and their two chicks came from Tom Nighthawk. He wrote a letter to the Missoulian that accused Ellis of using the fence as a ruse to limit free seating on the centerfield berm.

But Jessie Sherburne and Arnie Olsen see it differently. Both work for the Montana Natural History Center (MNHC), which co-opted the fence with Ellis and NorthWestern Energy. Both recognize the need to respect the birds’ space.

“Osprey do tolerate quite a bit of noise and use, but they have limits too,” Sherburne says.

The osprey pair has only nested on the platform for two years. Last year, a plastic orange snow fence kept centerfield regulars from getting too close to the pole, as the birds tend to leave the nest when they lose sight of people below. But Ellis and others agreed something more permanent was called for.

“We were just concerned that if someone leaned against the pole, the mom would leave the nest long enough for something to happen to the chick,” Ellis says.

Centerfield regulars, the very people Nighthawk went to bat for, agree. (Nighthawk could not be reached for comment, and Ellis says he has not contacted the team directly.)

“I think it’s a good deal,” says James R. Grant, an Osprey regular who only missed two games last season. He watched most from centerfield.

“It’s nice to lean on, too,” adds fellow fan Andy Peterson.

Sherburne ob-served that the fence has already made a difference in the ospreys’ behavior.

“It was completely night-and-day difference from last year,” she says.

For the MNHC, the fence is just the beginning of a campaign to promote awareness of osprey. Sherburne says interpretive signs along the trail near the nest will be the next step. Sherburne already attends some ballgames to offer osprey facts to anyone interested in listening.

As for Nighthawk’s accusation that Ellis tried to cut centerfield seating off by “using some ploy,” Ellis says the berm was built intentionally to offer free seating.

“I think it’s part of the charm of our facility,” he says, noting there’s still plenty of room for fans to camp out.
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