WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Udall (D-NM), Richard Burr (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today praised the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s passage of the Defending Economic Livelihoods and Threatened Animals (DELTA) Act, legislation that encourages the U.S. to develop a strategy to protect the Okavango River Delta in Southern Africa. The House of Representatives passed the bipartisan bill earlier this year. The legislation now awaits action on the floor of the Senate. 

“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 the committee has passed this legislation to encourage the U.S. to develop a strategy to protect the Okavango River Delta in South Africa,” said Senator Portman.  “The Okavango Delta is a precious water resource that is home to over one million people 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 urge the Senate to pass this legislation as soon as possible.” 

“The Okavango River Delta is an unspoiled wilderness – a delicate region of deep ecological, cultural, and economic importance to surrounding nations and to the world,” said Senator Udall. “It is home to some of the world’s most iconic species and serves as a vital lifeline and watershed for over one million people throughout the region. But today, this diverse ecosystem is being threatened by industrial development and wildlife traffickers. I applaud the committee for advancing the DELTA Act today. Our bipartisan legislation would leverage key partnerships to help preserve this precious wetland by promoting long-term conservation efforts, economic growth, and greater stability.” 

“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s approval of the DELTA Act today is another positive step toward building important conservation efforts around the world,” said Senator Burr. “This legislation will protect water quality and unique species’ habitats in the Okavango River watershed in Southern Africa, setting an example for responsible conservation both at home and abroad. I look forward to the Senate voting on this bill as soon as possible.”

“I was thrilled to see the DELTA Act pass out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today,” said Senator Coons.  “The DELTA Act supports a collaborative approach to transboundary water management in the Okavango watershed and demonstrates the continued U.S. commitment to linking conservation and economic development. I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this bill into law before the end of the year.”

“The DELTA Act is an important piece of bipartisan legislation that will help preserve the Okavango River Basin and the communities and unique wildlife that depend on it for survival,” said Senator Whitehouse. “This region boasts one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems and serves as an imperative water resource, yet it currently faces grave threats from wildlife traffickers and unsustainable development. I’m proud to cosponsor this bill and work with my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to promote international conservation efforts.”

“... thanks to the vision and leadership of the House & Senate International Conservation Caucus, the United States is once again committing to partner with nations in Africa to support and assist in conserving some of the world's most iconic species & landscapes,”  said David H. Barron, Founder, ICCF.

The DELTA Act is a vote of confidence in the countries of Southern Africa and their ability to build a prosperous future through conservation. These countries have demonstrated vision and leadership through the creation of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area or KAZA, home to half of Africa’s remaining elephants, incredible natural wonders such as Victoria Falls and the Okavango Delta, and some of the most successful community-based conservation programs in the world. By directing greater attention to the management and conservation of the Okavango River basin, the DELTA Act will help protect a globally-significant region and build on existing efforts that have ensured both thriving wildlife populations and prosperous communities,” said Nik Sekhran, Chief Conservation Officer, World Wildlife Fund. 

“Strengthening natural resources management in the Okavango River basin not only helps wildlife and communities abroad but also benefits America’s national security and economic interests,” said Lynn Scarlett, global chief of policy and government affairs for The Nature Conservancy. “By encouraging cooperation among governments and nongovernmental organizations, the DELTA Act will go a long way toward improving the way stakeholders manage water and other natural resources, protecting wildlife and their habitats and strengthening efforts to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking. We applaud Sens. Portman, Udall, Burr, Coons and Whitehouse and their colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for supporting this bill and this important international conservation work.”

“U.S. government leadership on combating wildlife trafficking and watershed management in the Okavango Delta is timely.  Elephant poaching and trafficking by transnational criminal syndicates threaten our natural security,” said Kelly Keenan Aylward, Washington Office Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society.  “Thanks to Senators Rob Portman, Chris Coons, Richard Burr and Sheldon Whitehouse who have shepherded the DELTA Act through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a U.S. conservation and development strategy for the DELTA is a step closer to reality.”

“Conservation International applauds the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for passing the bipartisan DELTA Act to protect the Okavango River Basin. We appreciate Senators Portman, Udall, Burr, Coons, and Whitehouse for their leadership on this important legislation that will help to improve the livelihoods of those living in the region through better resource management and the establishment of new conservation programs to save critically endangered species. We encourage Senate passage of the Delta Act this Congress,” said James Roth, SVP of Global Policy for Conservation International.

NOTE: Senators Portman and Udall – along with Senators Burr, Coons, and Whitehouse as original cosponsors – introduced the DELTA Act earlier this year. This legislation would encourage the U.S. to work with the governments of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and neighboring countries Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as nongovernmental organizations to facilitate transboundary cooperation, improve water and natural resources management, and protect threatened wildlife species that depend on the Okavango River Basin as a critical habitat. The bill authorizes the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide technical assistance to governments and local communities for water and natural resource management, and to build the capacity of local law enforcement, park rangers, and community leaders to combat illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking. The bill requires State and USAID to provide Congress a report within one year on the progress of the strategy. The House passed the legislation earlier this year.