The cast and crew of a reality television show will start filming in the second weekend of October in a popular hunting spot near Petersburg. They’ll stay there for the next 40 days. That means a longer season for some local transportation and hospitality businesses — but the project is also pushing aside hunters in the middle of deer and moose season.
Some subsistence users in the area feel that the U.S. Forest Service didn’t consider their needs when they greenlit the project.
Outlast is a survival show where contestants are dropped into the Alaskan wilderness to compete for a cash prize. It’s only had one season so far — filmed on Chichagof Island — and the competition is cutthroat. Acts of sabotage are commonplace between contestants — including, infamously, setting rival campsites on fire.
The U.S. Forest Service authorized Netflix and the BBC to shoot the second season of Outlast in Little Duncan Bay, a popular fishing, hunting, and recreation area about 20 miles southeast of Petersburg.
The show will bring in about 60 people to live and work on location through mid-November. But as the cast gets eliminated, crew numbers will decrease proportionally.
Ray Born is Petersburg’s District Ranger. He said a few charter pilots, boat captains, caterers, and Borough officials told him that this would be an economic boon for Petersburg.
“They’re bringing in about a million dollars into the community for this project,” said Born. “So, there’s economic value that way, as we look at it. And part of our mission is to help take care of the community.”
In fact, one borough assembly member already has a contract to transport the film crew: Scott Newman.
But not everybody in the community is happy — least of all, subsistence users.
“[It] seems misguided,” said Lee Gilpin, a Petersburg subsistence hunter. “There’s going to be some grumpy people over this.”
Gilpin was speaking from the exact location Outlast is set to take place. He was out hunting moose in late September and saw the film crew staking out the coast. He said he’s not thrilled about them setting up shop right in the middle of the Sitka blacktail season. He said it’s a high traffic hunting spot — especially for local kids.
“My daughter grew up hunting in this area,” said Gilpin. “Every deer she’s ever killed has been inside the area that’s being discussed here. She’s not the only one. There’s a lot of kids in Petersburg that this is where they get to go deer hunting for the first time because the access is very, very easy.”
The federal government usually prioritizes the interests of subsistence users over commercial in rural areas — but not in this case.
In its decision memo, the Forest Service said the filming will affect access to subsistence resources within the proposed area. But the scale of the impact on subsistence is not significant within the overall traditional use area.
Bob Lynn sits on the Petersburg Borough Assembly, and his house overlooks Little Duncan. For weeks, he’s watched the film crew’s charter boats and planes come and go from the area. At an assembly meeting in late September, he said he was concerned for local hunters — and for the safety of the contestants.
“I can see a conflict really quick here, where somebody gets shot — not intentionally, but it could happen,” said Lynn. “I think you might want to take a look at a different time of the year. I think we’re asking for some problems we don’t need.”
Bret Uppencamp oversees special use permits for the Petersburg Ranger District. He said the Outlast crew has to follow a long list of rules to use the area.
“Essentially, like, if they can cut trees down, or if they can have fires, how they’re going to dispose of human waste,” said Uppencamp. “And for wildlife interactions, like — they need to ensure they’re not overly harassing wildlife.”
Uppencamp said those federal stipulations amount to basic “leave no trace” principles, but there’s not much on the list that specifically pertains to safety.
The Forest Service opened up a week-long comment period to gather feedback on the permit. They notified about 450 interested parties on an email chain, and addressed Petersburg’s Borough Assembly and the local tribe, Petersburg Indian Association. About 50 people responded, and feedback was fairly mixed.
Subsistence users weren’t the only ones taking issue with the project. One commenter noted that the area is sacred to Indigenous people. Uppencamp said the district is looking into this claim, but he and Ranger Born believe the filming activities won’t compromise the physical integrity of the site.
Altogether, Born said it was a tough call to make — but the land doesn’t just belong to Petersburg locals.
“This is a relatively high-use area,” said Born. “A lot of people do go through there, but it’s not a closed area. Forest Service land belongs to all the American people. So, everybody has the right to be in there.”
Gilpin said it all feels a little exploitative — and that even if the Outlast crew “leaves no trace” on the land, they’ll leave behind a lost season.
“If you’re growing up […] in Petersburg, you have one season of deer hunting that you can’t get to during high school,” said Gilpin. “That’s a quarter of your easy access hunting area, gone. A quarter of the time you can hunt has been put away so somebody could make a few dollars.”
And it’s not the first go around Petersburg residents have had with reality TV shows in their backyard. In recent years, some have opposed the Discovery series, Alaskan Bush People, which they say casts the region in a negative light.
The Outlast cast and crew will film around Little Duncan until mid-November. By that time, one determined contestant will have won their million dollar prize — but some locals will have missed their chance to get a prize buck.