It doesn't qualify as a preppy alert, but the Interior Department is reviewing its rules for protecting alligators, now that there are more of them around.

"We're looking at the commercial aspects of the alligator world," said Larry LaRochelle, staff biologist for Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service. He said the agency is considering allowing the export of alligator meat and eliminating federal permits for the alligator trade in states that have adequate permit systems.

Over the past few years Interior gradually has relaxed its grip on the alligator trade, an industry that was almost wiped out in the mid-1960s, when the federal government put the alligator under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

At that time conservationists feared that the popularity of alligator handbags, belts and shoes would lead to the animal's extinction.

By the mid-1970s it appeared that the protection programs had worked too well, as communities in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and South Carolina complained that there were too many alligators, and that they were showing up at golf courses, tennis courts, shopping malls and lawn parties.

Interior already has removed the endangered-species label from alligators in Florida and Louisiana, and Texas has sought a similar change.

In other parts of the country alligators are still listed as endangered or threatened, and, generally, it is illegal to kill them.

In 1980 Interior allowed traders to export hides to other countries and to ship meat between states, if both states permit the practice. "It's going very well," said LaRochelle, who attributes much of the success to the cooperation of alligator-related industries, which do not want to risk being shut down again.

The industry's approach also has become much more sophisticated: alligator farms are beginning to spring up as a way of providing a more steady supply of the animals.