Bipartisan DELTA Act Championed by Caucus Leaders Clears Senate, Is Signed into Law

December 21, 2018
Bipartisan DELTA Act Championed by Caucus Leaders Clears Senate, Is Signed into Law

The President has signed into law H.R. 4819, the Defending Economic Livelihoods and Threatened Animals (DELTA) Act, a bill aimed at promoting sustainable economic growth through trans-boundary conservation programs in the Okavango River Basin.

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The Okavango River Basin is Africa’s most expansive inland water system and home to its largest remaining elephant population. Aiming to promote sustainable economic growth in this region through trans-boundary conservation programs, the Senate voted unanimously on December 19th to pass H.R. 4819, the Defending Economic Livelihoods and Threatened Animals (DELTA) Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by co-chairs of the International Conservation Caucus and passed by the House in July. President Trump signed the bill into law on December 21st.

Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), a co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus, introduced the bill with bipartisan support in January. Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX), and Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), also co-chairs of the House International Conservation Caucus, were among original co-sponsors of the bill.

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), a co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus in the Senate, introduced a companion bill earlier this year alongside fellow caucus co-chairs Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). They, along with Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, led efforts to move the DELTA Act through the Senate.

Senator Portman said of the bill, “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 Senate has unanimously approved this legislation to encourage the U.S. to develop a strategy to protect the Okavango River Delta in southern Africa.”

Beyond encouraging the U.S. to develop a strategy with countries in the region for conservation of the Okavango watershed, the DELTA Act authorizes the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide technical assistance for water and natural resource management and to build local capacity to combat illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Ultimately, the bill aims to combat threats of poaching and wildlife trafficking and provide opportunities for economic growth by enhancing cooperation and coordination between governments, leveraging the experience and expertise of private-sector and non-governmental stakeholders. The waters of the Okavango River 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.

“I’m proud the Senate passed the DELTA Act today--bipartisan legislation to leverage key partnerships that would help safeguard this precious wetland by promoting long-term conservation efforts, economic growth, and greater stability,” said Senator Udall, a founding co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus. “Together, we can preserve this priceless intact ecosystem for generations to come.”

"The 'Jewel of the Kalahari,' the Okavango Delta, is one of the most magnificent ecosystems in the world,” says ICCF founder David Barron. “Thanks to the leadership of the International Conservation Caucus in the House and Senate, the United States will now have a mandate to work with the governments of Botswana and others in the region to assure that future generations can appreciate this biodiverse gem while its local good stewards optimize the economic benefits of managing it well.”

With this mandate, the State Department and USAID will report to Congress within one year on the progress of an Okavango conservation strategy.

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