The bipartisan United States Foundation for International Conservation Act (USFICA) cleared an important hurdle Thursday, passing out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a 42-7 vote.

The bill, introduced in the House in December by Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul (R-TX), would create the U.S. Foundation for International Conservation to fund public-private partnerships to support local communities in managing protected and conserved areas.

Protected and conserved areas – widely recognized as one of the most important tools for conserving biodiversity that benefits people – often lack dedicated long-term financial support. USFICA aims to leverage private funding, in particular, to help meet the financing gap, complementing programs being implemented by other donor nations and able to augment other U.S. Government investments.

Speaking at committee markup on Wednesday, Chairman McCaul said:

I am proud to be the author of this bill, the Foundation for International Conservation Act. This is a bipartisan bill, with bicameral support, that I think – most interestingly – harvests the power of private philanthropy in a 2-to-1 ratio of private-to-public spending. Never in my career have I had ten billionaires come to me and say, "Sir, we want to put our money to work with the [U.S. government] to work on such an important cause." And I have strongly advocated – and believe there will be – a 100 million dollar offset in appropriations language, so that would mean – upon enactment – there would be no new costs to taxpayers.

Stressing the impact of international conservation on U.S. foreign policy objectives, he added:

[T]his foundation is more than leveraging the power of private contributions – it is a diplomatic investment in the U.S. foreign policy toolkit that none of our adversaries can replicate. Russia and China benefit from instability. Putin profits on the gold and minerals they mine, while native forests from Siberia to the Solomon Islands are being exploited to feed Chinese timber markets . . . . This legislation will fight the CCP’s environmental destruction, bring stability to local communities, and conserve wildlife, forests, and fisheries.

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In March 2023, the Senate also introduced its own version of the U.S. Foundation for International Conservation Act, which the bill’s sponsors, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) highlighted at a Senate Appropriations State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing titled "Advancing Security and Prosperity through International Conservation."

Senator Coons, Chairman of the subcommittee and a co-chair of the Senate International Conservation Caucus, said at the time:

We are losing the earth’s most vital spaces, the most remarkable parts of Creation, at an alarming rate because of logging, rapid human population expansion, the demand for agricultural space, for charcoal, for wildfires, because of a changing climate. This is, in part, because the vast majority of gazetted parks, of notionally-protected spaces, are underfunded, leaving lands at risk of degradation and wildlife at risk for poaching. Poaching funds armed groups and global criminal networks that threaten national security, both here and in many countries around the world. . . . We also recognize governments cannot possibly address this problem alone. I’m encouraged, over recent years, we’ve seen significant and growing commitments from philanthropic and private-sector actors to support transnational conservation.

Ranking Member Senator Graham said:

These parks are, sort of, sanctuaries of governance and law and order, surrounded by a lot of upheaval, so if it were up to me, I would have a string of parks, conservation parks, all over Africa because that may be the only place that the community can reside with some level of peace and certainty in terms of the rule of law. . . . The goal of [Senator Coons] and myself is to create a public-private relationship, where the private sector, sort of, leads and puts their money where their mouth is, collaborating with the United States Government and other people -hopefully other governments- to make sure that these parks are well-managed, that we deal with poaching by force, and that the communities surrounding these parks benefit.

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