Following public outcry about a fox being trapped in a steel- jawed leg-hold trap near Columbia's Fairway Hills Golf Club, the Columbia Association's board of directors has unanimously voted to ban the use of such "maiming devices."
The board also took steps to create a wildlife policy for the homeowners association and created an environmental affairs committee to address such issues.
A crowd of about 25 residents and wildlife organization representatives - a large number of people at the usually sparsely attended meetings - applauded the board's efforts Thursday night.
Board member Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills said she had no idea that the association was using leg traps to trap animals, and the issue alerted the board that the association does not have a wildlife policy.
Board member Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake said he hoped the board would become proactive about wildlife and environmental issues.
"I hope we don't have to wait for the next crisis to do anything," he said.
Chick Rhodehamel, the Columbia Association's vice president for open-space management, said an environmental affairs committee could be established by April, and the group would be charged with developing a wildlife policy.
Statewide, an effort is under way to ban leg-hold traps with bills in the House and Senate proposing to make the traps illegal.
Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld, a Montgomery County Democrat, is sponsoring the Senate bill, and Del. Barbara Frush, a Democrat who represents parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, is sponsoring the House bill.
Howard County Dels. Frank S. Turner and Elizabeth Bobo, both Democrats, have also signed onto the House bill.
The Humane Society of the United States is backing the legislation. John Goodwin, the group's grass-roots outreach coordinator, said the fox caught near Fairway Hills will be used as an example in lobbying efforts to illustrate why the traps should be banned.
"We hope the suffering she had to endure in these cruel traps can help shine light on something that the trappers have tried to hide from the general public," he said.
Last month, the 7-month-old female fox was caught in a leg-hold trap in a patch of woods adjacent to the golf course and about 50 yards from an apartment complex, said Tom Scollins, a licensed wildlife control operator who owns TS Wildlife Control in Baltimore and removed the fox after a resident found it.
The fox lost two toes on its right foot, said Gerda Deterer, a rehabilitator with the Wildlife Rescue shelter in Dundalk, where the fox was taken Jan. 18. The animal is recovering and is expected to be released this week, she said.
Leg-hold traps are designed with two steel jaws that clamp onto an animal's foot once it steps inside. The traps don't kill the animal but hold it until the trappers return. Under Maryland law, trappers are required to euthanize the animals after they are caught.
The traps are "crude little primitive devices that can be purchased at a low cost and set out all over the place," Goodwin said.
After foxes began damaging four holes on the golf course about a year ago, the Columbia Association contracted trapper Robert Dunker of Catonsville, said Keisha Reynolds, the association's manager of community relations and communications.
Rob Goldman, Columbia Association's vice president for sport and fitness, said the staff tried a variety of things before hiring a trapper, including putting moth balls, laundry detergent and other "strong scents" in the damaged areas to discourage the foxes. Some of the turf was also removed and replanted to lure the foxes to other areas.
"These efforts were not effective, and the foxes continued to do damage almost every night," Goldman said.
After the trapper caught two foxes in February and March last year, the damage to the greens stopped, Goldman said.
However, in November, foxes started damaging another five holes at the course, Goldman said. After efforts to lure the foxes away failed, the trapper was again hired, and he removed five foxes between December and January, Goldman said.
At Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, the association's other golf course, foxes were causing similar problems in September. The trapper removed one fox, and the damage stopped, Goldman said.
Two beavers also were trapped at Fairway Hills over the past six months after the animals built a dam in the Little Patuxent River, flooding a tunnel under Ten Mills Road that golfers and residents use, Goldman said.
"We always prefer to resolve issues with regard to animals in a way that preserves the habitat of the animal as well as the needs of our residents," Goldman said. "And we always make every effort to do just that."
Dunker said it was not one of his traps that caught the 7- month-old fox last month, but he declined to elaborate.
The Columbia Association stopped using Dunker's services in January, and the association has not authorized additional trapping, Reynolds said.
Many residents at Thursday's meeting commended the board for banning the traps, but some criticized the board for contracting a trapper.
"What if the leg trap had caught a 2-year-old child?" said Tom Scott of Wilde Lake.
Steven R. Pine of Kings Contrivance asked the board: "What will be the next incident that doesn't have a clear policy set by CA? I can't even think of all the situations that could happen at the hands of CA staff that could carelessly do injury to our citizens or our wildlife."
John Hadidian, the director of the Humane Society of the United States' urban wildlife program, offered his services to help the association as it deals with wildlife and environmental issues.