Yakama Nation investigates deaths of 11 horses

Toppenish, Washington (AP) Feb. 2010

Yakama Nation police are investigating the deaths of at least 11 horses near the southern boundary of the tribe’s reservation over the last few months.

Tribal Council Chairman Harry Smiskin told the Yakima Herald-Republic that few details were available, including whether the deaths are related.

“They’re still investigating it,” Smiskin said.

Motorists reported seeing the carcasses from Highway 97 in the Satus Pass area, where thousands of horses roam in herds. Len Schulmeister, the owner of Pine Springs Resort, which is 13 miles north of Goldendale on Highway 97, said he had seen eagles eating at the carcasses of three or four horses.

Speculation has focused on whether the horses were killed as bait by eagle hunters. Although eagle hunting is illegal, selling the feathers can be lucrative.

Federal law prohibits the sale, and for most people even the possession, of eagle feathers. Members of federally recognized tribes can receive feathers for religious purposes from a federal repository, but only after obtaining a federal permit.

Representatives for the Washington State Patrol and Yakima County Sheriff’s Office said their agencies were not involved in the Satus Pass investigation.

The sheriff’s office is investigating the shooting of four riding horses in an Outlook pasture this month. At least one of them died. Sheriff’s officials recently said they had no leads in that case.