The Aletsch glacier is a step closer to UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The canton Valais authorities have voted to forward a bid to protect the glacier and surrounding area, overcoming objections from a local community bordering the glacier.
In a vote on Tuesday, the government of canton Valais proposed expanding the protected area under its jurisdiction from 288 to 401 square kilometres.
In its decision, the canton decided to exclude a controversial 90 hectares where the commune of Ried-Morel wants to build a cable-car connection. However, the decision is unlikely to satisfy Ried-Morel.
The canton ruled out additional tourist infrastructure since the area in question is already on Switzerland's inventory of sites of national importance. Instead, the cantonal authorities said the commune could look into building an underground railway.
It is now up to the federal government to put forward the bid to the UNESCO authorities in Paris. If accepted, the total area would be 471 square kilometres, including 70 square kilometres in adjoining canton Berne, and would become the first natural site in the Alps included on the UNESCO list.
Switzerland's federal environment agency and environmental organisations have welcomed the decision by canton Valais. The agency said a positive response by UNESCO would promote tourism in Valais and Berne, citing examples of existing UNESCO sites such as the Grand Canyon in the United States.
The old city of Berne, the convent of Saint Gallen and the Benedictine convent of St John at Müstair are the three Swiss places already declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
swissinfo with agencies