Pristine land on the West Coast could be ruined to make way for a mining project that may not proceed.
Bathurst Resources, which won the right to mine the Denniston Plateau after legal challenges from environmentalists, says it does not want to reach peak production until coal prices recover.
Although it will only mine about a quarter of its original target in the next couple of years, the company still wants to prepare the site with dams, roads and water-storage facilities.
But the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand and the Green Party say Bathurst Resources should commit fully to the mine before any conservation land is ruined.
The Department of Conservation is considering the application to prepare the site.