Fine tuning skills

for future emergencies

Heather Howard and her dog Gracie work with Umatilla Sheriff’s tracker Cliff Pease to plan the next step in tracking a “lost” hiker on Sunday, June 27. Photo, Ellen Morris Bishop.
Heather Howard and her dog Gracie work with Umatilla Sheriff’s tracker Cliff Pease to plan the next step in tracking a “lost” hiker on Sunday, June 27. Photo, Ellen Morris Bishop.

Search and Rescue (SAR) team members from Wallowa, Union, Baker, and Umatilla counties fine-tuned their skills this past weekend, June 240-27, in the Salt Creek Summit area of Wallowa County.  About 60 SAR volunteers and instructors from the four counties participated in the multi-day training. Wallowa County Search and Rescue (WCSAR) volunteers hosted the event.

Training included swiftwater rescue, tactical fast tracking, advanced incident command, hasty-team and K-9 land searches, rescuing injured hikers from remote locations, and coordination with Civil Air Patrol aircraft. 

 “Our numbers were down a little from what we expected, but it’s a little late in the season,” said Paige Sully, the event coordinator for WCSAR. “But all in all I think it was great.”

“It was a very good training,” said Jim Akenson, who serves as a WCSAR incident commander and participated in the Incident Command training. “It was fundamental and advanced all rolled into one.  As an incident commander, it’s good to see more and more people coming on who can take leadership roles. Everybody I observed did really well.”

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Saturday was devoted to classes, most with hands-on field experience.

Tactical tracking,  taught by Clifford Pease and Leon Kershaw, was among the most popular classes. Both men track wanted suspects and escaped prisoners for the Umatilla County sheriff and other law enforcement.  Their “fast-tracking” techniques have allowed them to follow and apprehend escaped convicts more than 40 miles in three days.  

“It’s important to pay attention to the small things that people leave along their path, including actual tracks as well as bent twigs, scuffs, and other spoor (sign,)”  Pease said. “It’s often possible to determining a general path and send a team ahead along that line to pick up spoor (tracks) farther ahead, and close the time-distance gap.  You can find the lost person quicker that way.”

The trackers also worked with Wallowa County’s two tracking K-9 teams—Heather Howard and her dog Gracie, and Edward “Vern” Vernarsky and his dog Trooper.   “I didn’t have too much faith in dogs before this,” Pease said. “But I really learned a lot. These K-9 teams are top-notch.”


“I really thought the tracking class was great,” said Holly Akenson, WCSAR K-9 team leader. “There were a lot of really good on-the-ground things.”

Swiftwater rescue training, led by a team of instructors from Wallowa County, took place in the placid waters of the pond near Salt Creek Summit. SAR volunteers fine-tuned skills that included accurately throwing rescue ropes. A few lucky volunteers spent time in the water. 

On Sunday, June 27 SAR hasty, medical, and K-9 teams coordinated by incident command and SAR members from multiple counties spread out in a mock search and rescue exercise in the Salt Creek Summit area. Civil Air Patrol brought in two aircraft – one from Boise, Idaho and another from Redmond, Ore. to aid in searching for several “lost hikers,” some of whom were “injured.”  The search and rescue efforts were all successful within the three hours allotted for the exercise.

“Learning to work with and practicing with our neighboring counties for mutual aide just makes us more ready when we have a big search and we all need to work together. This way we all know each other, we’ve worked together, and I think that’s really beneficial,” Holly Akenson said.

For additional information, contact
Ellen Morris Bishop,  Wallowa County SAR Public Relations
541 398-1810

Paige Sully, Wallowa County SAR,  541-426-0535

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Ellen Morris Bishop
Freelance Writer and Author at TERRANES, LLC | | Website | + posts

Conservation, Editorial & Sports Photography

About Ellen Morris Bishop:  
As we become a more urban, urbane, and technologically-driven society, I thnk itis essential top re-establish our ties to landscape and place. I've tried to accomplish this through both images and words, as well as interpretive work. With a Ph.D. in geology, and specialization in the exotic terranes of the Northwest, it's natural that Pacific Northwest landscapes--their geologic history and ecosystems--are my specialty. When not shooting assignments or stock images, I teach geology at Eastern Kentucky University. My photographs try to reveal the landscape's changing forms through time., and human's changing relationship with nature.  My images and interpretive work are used by the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, National Park Service, Oregon State Parks, Contdon Museum, High Desert Museum and many others.  

Photography and Photographic Equipment:
While it's true that great images are not about equipment, great landscapes deserve to be honored with the best optics and sensors possible. My still photography is captured with a Nikon system that includes d800, D750, and D7100  bodies. Nikon's principal advantage: the extraordinary dynamic range and resolution of the D800 and D810. When paired with an external GPS unit, Nikon DSLRs also tag each image as it's shot with accurate GPS data in the EXIF data. When reverting to a more elemental mode, I shoot with a Wista 4x5 large format camera  (and film.) Writing and Interpretation:
More than any other science, geology is engaged with story. Geologists are, of necessity, yarn-spinners with a long reach in time. But even in papers that herald stunning new discoveries, the story is often obscured to general readers by scientific terms and academic text. My mission is to unveil these stories through images and understandable words that tell the science in rich and compelling detail. This is  the purpose of In Search of Ancient Oregon (Timber Press, 2004) and other works.

Ellen's books can be found here