Last year, the conservancy sold 92,000 acres to the Danish pension fund ATP Timberland Invest.
In a recent interview, Nature Conservancy Executive Director Mike Carr and spokeswoman Connie Prickett said there's often a markup associated to a land sale to the state. But they stressed the additional costs reflect not only rising property values, but also the time and money the organization invests in the land prior to the sale.
"We have to get in and out of a project whole, but that's not a profit," Carr said.
"We do leave millions of dollars in these projects," Prickett added.
Although the scope of the current investigation is limited to the single transaction, local officials have decried the conservancy's markup policy for years.
Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe said it appears state officials pay the extra amount to gain the favor of powerful environmentalists.
"I believe there is a close relationship between the Nature Conservancy and the DEC. They were paid their carrying costs for the time they held the property for the state," Monroe said. "It always seemed improper that the Conservancy was acting as a purchasing agent for the state and having all of their costs covered. That's not an arms-length deal."
Last month, local officials panned pleas from environmentalists to forgo their opposition to state land acquisition.