The Western Larch changed colors in time to brighten the drive for travelers headed to the 3rd Real Estate and Development in the Rockies Conference. Missoula residents know the needles will fall off these trees, and then return next spring in a lighter shade of green. Realtors and developers attending the conference have watched the Amenity Economy of the Rockies change colors in 2008, and fall dramatically with the national housing bubble and the credit crisis. The conference audience wanted to hear that the real estate market will turn green again - and soon. A panel of regional economic experts advised the group that recovery will not take place by spring, and perhaps not for several springs. Construction and real estate, the two largest contributors to income in the Rocky Mountain states, officially joined the boom and bust tradition of their resource sector predecessors. If Yogi Berra could travel through the Rocky Mountain West, he would make this observation - "When a Rocky Mountain community depends on an Amenity Economy, the outcome is not always pretty!"
Markets for ecosystem services are emerging, but not mature enough to generate revenue that competes with real estate development. Innovative initiatives like The Montana Legacy Project and The Blackfoot Challenge are using pubic financing to establish proving grounds for sustainable landscapes - watersheds that will emphasize production of ecosystem goods and services by retaining working lands. The projects allow an amenity economy to return - with an expanded definition. Rather than depending on viewshed and waterfront amenities to drive the economy, ecosystem markets could work to increase value of property based on new markets. The lull in the housing market may open a window of opportunity to demonstrate feasible service based markets for natural resources. To end these conference notes with another Yogi-like quote, "Isn't it amazing how often a pretty picture develops from a negative!"