Firm's forest felling upsets conservationists

Controversial plans to expand New Plymouth's multimillion-dollar Tasmanian dairying venture are a step closer to being realised.

The company, owned by the New Plymouth District Council's investment arm, has been given the green light from Tasmanian authorities to convert 1800ha of native forest to dairy paddocks.

They are still waiting on Australian government approval.

The proposal has angered the Tasmanian Conservation Trust because the expansion area is habitat of the nationally-threatened tasmanian devil and spotted-tailed quoll.

But the company's bosses say they have taken steps to ensure the tasmanian devils are protected.

The expansion plan will make the Woolnorth property one of the largest grass-fed dairy operations in the world.

The New Plymouth District Council, through its Taranaki Investment Management Ltd (TIML), has a 98.42 per cent share in Tasman Farms Ltd, which owns Van Diemen's Land Company (VDL).

The company milks 17,400 cows across 24 farms in northwest Tasmania, producing about 5.76 million kilograms of milksolids.

The $122 million expansion will double milk production at Woolnorth, creating 11 new dairy farms by converting beef operations and clearing land for another two.

Conservation trust director Peter McGlone said it was outrageous to clear land where there were endangered species habitats.

Mr McGlone described the plan as "an horrific attack on our threatened native fauna by a New Zealand-owned company".

He called on the council to stop VDL from proceeding with the clearing.

The TCT is worried clearing thousands of hectares of native bush would encourage other land owners to seek approvals for similar large-scale clearance.

But TIML chairman Keith Sutton said the company was working with the government to make sure the tasmanian devil was protected.

"Everybody's really confident with the proposal.

"We got all the expert advice, we wouldn't have got permission if we hadn't gone through the right processes."

As a result of this advice, the company reduced the area of native vegetation it planned to clear by almost 50 per cent, from 3500ha to 1806ha.

Seventy per cent of the 6900ha of native vegetation on the whole of VDL properties will be protected in reserves.

The company will not confirm where its funding for the expansion will come from but said it is in talks with several interested parties.

In late 2012 there were rumours of Chinese investors seeking a stake in the dairy operation.

Taranaki Daily News