A Remarkable Recovery

The scars from Yellowstone's summer of fire ten years ago remain, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone. But the promise in the bright green of young trees is what many visitors see.

"The growth, the little bitty trees, it's amazing how its come back," said one visitor.

Tim Houlihan/CBS
CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports from Yellowstone.
Though 800,000 acres burned, in the ten years since rangers have not replanted a single tree. Botanist Roy Renkin says every one of the millions of pine tree seedlings is a work of nature.

The abundant wildlife seems to declare that this is a place where nature is in charge. Every species that was in Yellowstone at the time of Columbus, rangers boast, can still be found here.

"Yellowstone is the most natural place in the lower forty eight states," declares John Varley, a park scientist who believes that keeping Yellowstone natural means keeping out of nature's way.

"To a large extent we do nothing...we're observers here," says Varley.

Tim Houlihan/CBS
Tourists file in to Yellowstone.
Sometimes though the observers seem to vastly outnumber whatever is being observed.

The park service policy of just watching nature was never more controversial than when the fires of 1988 began and rangers decided to just let them burn. Among the many who wanted the fires fought was Wyoming's Senator at the time, Alan Simpson.

"It was tough, tough for people to swallow," said Simpson. "They knew that their beloved park was burning to the ground and meanwhile everybody was telling them it was joyous."

Finally the park service called in firefightersbut the flames didn't stop until the first snow. Ten years later the rangers' say their faith in Mother Nature has paid off.

"She knows how to how to restore this place; how to send it through the the the fountain of youth as it were," said Varley.

Its not unusual to think of the great national parks as preserved remnants of an earlier America. The fires were a reminder that Yellowstone is a living, changing place and not a photograph frozen in time.

Reported by John Blackstone
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