WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Udall (D-NM) today introduced 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 South Africa. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are also original cosponsors of this legislation. A similar bill in the House – introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) – was recently approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and awaits action on the House floor. 

“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 South Africa,” said Portman.  “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.” 

“The Okavango River Basin is a pristine and delicate region of deep ecological, cultural, and economic importance to surrounding nations and to the world,” Udall said. “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.” 

“Serving as a co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus, 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 Burr. “The Okavango River is home to some of the world’s most endangered species, including African elephants, cheetahs and white and black rhinos, but it faces serious threats from traffickers, poachers and others. 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.”

“I am proud to cosponsor the DELTA Act with my colleagues, Senators Portman, Udall, Whitehouse, and Burr,” said Coons. “This bill helps support transnational conservation in the Okavango River Basin, and by extension, the majestic species that rely on the watershed. In my home state of Delaware, we know how important interstate watershed management is for ensuring a healthy Delaware River Basin and Chesapeake Bay. It is my hope that the transnational management of the Okavango watershed supported by this bill will serve as an example for effective watershed management around the world.”

This bill will help safeguard important species and natural resources, as well as the economies of the Okavango Basin and neighboring areas.  In the process, this work will show American leadership in promoting conservation around the world,” said Whitehouse.  “That leadership is vital to protecting endangered species and our environment everywhere.”

NOTE: 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 three years on the progress of the strategy.

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