The cabinet has approved a plan for the most significant enlargement of Switzerland's national park in 30 years. The park, in canton Graubünden, is to be extended to include a dozen lakes known as the "Lakes of Macun".
The environment ministry described the 3.6 square kilometre area as a "piece of Greenland in the middle of the Alps". Lying on a high plateau to the north of the park, the area around the lakes is home to a variety of alpine species including ibex, marmot and chamois.
The deal, which will take effect on August 1, was worked out between the national park commission and community of Lavin, which administers the area. It is considered a first step towards greater expansion. A further 20 communities in Graubünden have been asked to take part in plans to increase the size of the park from the current 169 square kilometres to 200.
The park commission says the present area is too small to allow the comprehensive conservation of the rich variety of native species of flora and fauna the park was designed to protect. As part of the project, a buffer zone surrounding the park boundaries will be established, where only environmentally sustainable human activity will be allowed.
The government is expected to decide on the fate of the larger expansion by the end of the year.
Once the only national park in Central Europe, the Swiss park is today the second smallest of the 14 alpine national parks.
swissinfo with agencies