July 13, 2018

Caucus Co-Chairs Introduce Bipartisan DELTA Act in the U.S. Senate

Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Udall (D-NM), co-chairs of the Senate International Conservation Caucus, introduced on July 11th the bipartisan Defending Economic Livelihoods and Threatened Animals (DELTA) Act, a bill designed to encourage development of a strategy for conservation in southern Africa’s important Okavango watershed region.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Richard Burr (R-NC), also co-chairs of the Senate International Conservation Caucus, and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) are original co-sponsors of the bill.

A version of this legislation was introduced in the House in January by the co-chairs of the House International Conservation Caucus. It has since passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee and awaits floor consideration.

The Okavango River Basin is Africa’s most expansive inland water system, extending from its source in the highlands of Angola, through Namibia, and into the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. These waters support more than one million Angolans, Botswanans, and Namibians, as well as Africa’s largest remaining population of elephants and a wealth of biodiversity. The region is ripe with potential for development through ecotourism, which can be a sustainable source of revenue for local communities. Like other regions in Africa, increased levels of poaching and wildlife trafficking threaten elephant populations in the region and prospects for inclusive, sustainable growth.

The bipartisan DELTA Act introduced in the Senate would encourage the U.S. to work with the governments of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, neighboring countries Zambia and Zimbabwe, and nongovernmental organizations to facilitate transboundary cooperation throughout the Okavango River Basin watershed region and authorizes the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide technical and capacity building assistance to governments and local communities in the region for natural resource management and combating wildlife trafficking.

In a press release issued by Senator Portman’s office, each of the co-chairs of the Senate International Conservation Caucus issued a statement regarding the bipartisan legislation and the region it aims to conserve.

Senator Portman said of the Okavango and of the DELTA Act, “As a co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus, I believe we must confront the threats to wildlife and natural resources around the world, and I’m pleased to introduce this legislation to encourage the U.S. to develop a strategy to protect the Okavango River Delta in [southern] Africa. The Okavango Delta is a precious water resource and serves as a critical habitat to some of the world’s most endangered species that continue to face a variety of threats from wildlife traffickers, poachers, and others. I am proud to protect this important resource and the people, wildlife, and ecosystems that depend on it, and I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to join me.”

Likewise, Senator Udall said, “The Okavango River Basin is a pristine and delicate region of deep ecological, cultural, and economic importance to surrounding nations and to the world. But today, this diverse ecosystem, and its robust populations of some of the world’s most endangered species, are threatened after years of conflict by development. The bipartisan DELTA Act will promote key partnerships to help preserve this precious region, promoting long-term conservation, economic growth, and stability in the greater Okavango River Basin.”

“I am proud to sponsor this legislation that will allow the U.S. to share its experience and expertise with other nations to further important conservation efforts abroad,” said Senator Burr. “By fostering cooperation and information sharing between the nations who border the river, we can help preserve this unique watershed and the wildlife who call it home.”

“[T]his work will show American leadership in promoting conservation around the world,” Senator Whitehouse added. “That leadership is vital to protecting endangered species and our environment everywhere.”

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