The Reagan administration has decided not to pursue a survey of the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge and Research Center in Prince George's County that could have led to its sale next year.
In April, the White House Property Review Board--responsible for bringing underutilized federal properties to the market place--asked the General Services Administration to conduct the study of Patuxent to determine if it was fully utilized in the best interest of the federal government. If it were not, its sale could be recommended.
Joshua A. Muss, executive director of the review board, however, was pressured by Interior officials and local members of Congress to back off, but would not until this month.
In a June 2 letter to Maryland Sens. Charles McC. Mathias (R) and Paul S. Sarbanes (D) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Muss said that Interior had advised that all of the land at Patuxent is "classified as national wildlife refuge lands" and is "exempt" from the Reagan administration federal land sales program.
Muss' letter stated he had instructed GSA that it would be "inappropriate" to go ahead with the survey.
B. Michael O'Hara, GSA's technical survey director, said, "It looks like this one is nailed shut."
Interior officials had objected strenously to the survey and possible sale, contending that the land was properly designated a refuge by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. Because Muss was unconvinced, GSA had said it would only postpone the survey from April to September, but would not cancel it.
Interior Secretary James G. Watt has pledged that he would not sell any officially designated park lands, including refuges.
Agency officials said it would take an act of Congress to sell the land, but on Capitol Hill the only legislation that was introduced on the subject was to bar any potential sale.
Eventually, federal land sales officials concluded that the dispute between the White House and Interior was caused by the review board's irritation that Interior was dragging its feet in an exercise designed to designate land that was not environmentally sensitive for the sales program. Interior spokesman G. Phillip Million said Friday that Muss' retreat this month did not involve any promise.
"I feel that the determination by the review board put an end to the controversy surrounding the future status of the wildlife refuge," Rep. Hoyer said. "In my opinion, the outstanding research on endangered species and migratory birds can now continue unaltered and without any threat of development within its boundaries."