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Portland arborist retires after 34 years of service

According to the Portland Parks Department, Jeff Tarling was responsible for nearly 6,000 trees planted during his tenure.

PORTLAND, Maine — The man credited with protecting and improving Portland’s green spaces for the past 34 years is hanging up his hard hat.

Jeff Tarling announced he'd be retiring as the city's arborist on February 3.

"In your mind, you could just keep going. But, that’s not always the case," Tarling said during a brisk January walk through Baxter Woods.

Ask those who work in the woods and they'd say Tarling has certainly left his mark.

Eric Topper, education director at Maine Audubon, brought us to Evergreen Woods. Behind sprawling rows of headstones in nearby Evergreen Cemetery, the city's largest wooded space—100 acres in total—was once choked by invasive species, Topper said.

In 2015, Tarling convinced uneasy tree lovers in the region that the best thing for the forest was to allow him to bring in skidders and chainsaws and thin out the unwanted plant life, allowing a diverse spectrum of native species to thrive in added space.

"Evergreen Woods is a really good example of the active habitat management and forest management that Tarling has been leading for decades at the city," Topper said.

Parks director Ethan Hipple believes Tarling helped plant nearly 6,000 trees across the city. Tarling worked tirelessly to keep non-native insect infestations like emerald ash borer at bay; preserved precious green spaces among the city’s concrete; built 11 community gardens; found, transported, and erected 34 city Christmas trees; and created a winter terrain course in Payson Park— one of three such urban terrain parks in the country.

"He really cares about what he does," Hipple said. "He's great with people, he loves kids, and he loves sharing with kids the magic of these open spaces and trees."

Portland has long been called “the forest city.” For 34 years, Tarling worked to live up to the name. Now, it’s someone else’s turn.

"One of the first calls I ever had in Portland was, they heard I was hired and said, 'Are you gonna save the forest city?' And I said, 'I sure hope so,'" Tarling smiled. "And, passing this onto the next generation is basically what I’ve done. And, you know, I think I’ve left it in pretty good hands."

Though not on the clock, he’ll keep taking walks in the woods; ready to introduce others to the nature he loves and helped preserve for generations to come.

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