The mining industry says allowing mineral exploration on conservation land does not mean mining will actually go ahead.
Cabinet papers obtained from the Ministry of Economic Development
show the Government initally considered allowing exploration on 467,517 hectares of protected areas, but this was reduced to 7000.
Mining activities are currently banned in 40% of conservation estate under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act,
The industry group Straterra says the extent of New Zealand's mineral wealth remains relatively unexplored.
Chairman John Dow says the current public consultation is just the start of a long process.
He says the mineral industry is worth $2 billion per year, of which $1 billion is export value, and it's likely that much more lies untapped below the surface.
The Coromandel Watchdog Committee says lifting Schedule 4 protections will open the way for wholesale destruction of wilderness areas.