Jeff Tarling stands beside an oak tree in Kennedy Park in November, 2021. Tarling will retire at the end of January after 34 years as the city's arborist. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)
Jeff Tarling stands beside an oak tree in Kennedy Park in November, 2021. Tarling will retire at the end of January after 34 years as the city's arborist. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)
advertisementSmiley face

It would have taken two or three more careers for Jeff Tarling to get everything done that he wanted to, the city arborist said on the cusp of his retirement. But after 34 years looking after Portland’s trees, the veteran forester is satisfied with what he did get to accomplish.

“You lift the weight you can while you’re doing it,” Tarling said. “Try to be as successful and progressive as you can and then you hope that others keep [it] going.”

Set to retire at the end of the month, Tarling, 67, sees his work planting trees and maintaining Portland’s canopy like a kind of conveyor belt. He knows that once a tree is planted, it will be around — and watched over — for the long-term.

Though Tarling will move on, he shared some objectives that he expects to continue at the city level, like the development of more natural landscapes and planting in urban areas. Though the infrastructure to support better planting zones in areas like East Bayside is progressing slower than he’d like it to be, Tarling said the city’s Forestry division has been working with the planning and public works departments more than ever.

Tarling also pointed to growing concerns about the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive species that can infest and kill off ash trees, as something that’s on his and Portland’s radar. The insect was discovered in Payson Park around two years ago, and he said he’s seen many of Portland’s ash trees infected already.

“We’re just seeing it spread much faster than we thought, and we’re going to see [a] significant decline of ash trees in Portland,” Tarling said.

Portland Forestry arborist crew member Jonathan Lorenz plants a new 'Adirondack' crabapple on Munjoy Hill. (Courtesy City of Portland)
Portland Forestry arborist crew member Jonathan Lorenz plants a new ‘Adirondack’ crabapple on Munjoy Hill. (Courtesy City of Portland)

The city has been working with the Maine Forest Service to combat the issue, which could mean the introduction of a beneficial insect to quell the Emerald Ash Borer population.

Portland’s first official tree program began in 1855, meaning an arborist and their team has been looking over the tree canopy in the city for nearly 170 years. Tarling looks back on his contribution to that time fondly, and adds that he’ll be around to potentially help on planning and forestry-related projects in some capacity in the future.

“It’s been rewarding,” Tarling said. “I’m really satisfied with what I’ve done, and my contribution has been a real honor.”

 

Smiley face