Because nude bathing may conflict with maintaining a haven for wildlife -- a piquant and arguable assertion -- the Interior Department is considering a ban on nudity at a beach at the far south end of the Assateague Island National Seashore.

The affected and very remote beach is near Chincoteague, Va., in an area where those wild ponies made famous by the storied Misty are foaled and roam in the wild. It's also famous for tasty oysters, but that's another story.

Dennis Holland, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service's refuge, said he proposed the ban months ago, before Playboy publicized the beach in July as a place to romp "with the wild ponies."

Now, Holland says, the beach's "usage appears to be climbing . . . . I see conflict. From my perspective, I see it as direct wildlife-people conflict, and I see it in conflict with [our] personnel and manpower resources."

One real problem, Holland said, is a lack of toilet facilities. He said there are no funds to provide them.

The proposed regulation would require that all genital regions and female breasts be covered.

"This particular beach," said Holland, "is getting a lot more civilization than we would like . . . voyeurs, and others. . . . We must look at ways of reducing the people-versus-wildlife conflict."

It may take six months to reach a decision.