Last fall John B. Crowell Jr., chief lawyer for a company that is the largest buyer of timbering rights in publicly owned nationed forests, delivered a rousing attack on federal timber management policies.

Crowell's speech to the Society of American Foresters sent shivers through the environmental community, but it was no surprise. As general counsel for the Louisiana-Pacific Corp., Crowell was known widely for his antagonism toward the U.S. Forest Service.

Today, Crowell is about to take control of the Forest Service as an assistant secretary of agriculture. His pending nomination by the Reagan White House is one of a number of major appointments that suggest the administration intends even more than it has said to reverse federal environmental policy.

Some of the staunchest critics of federal programs in their previous private lives are moving into positions of influence in the government. They include:

James R. Harris of Indiana, Reagan's choice to head Interior's Office of Surface Mining. As a state senator, he pushed the resolution that led Indiana to join a Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of the strip-mine law he will be sworn to uphold.

Robert F. Burford of Colorado, the nominee to run Interior's Bureau of Land Management. As speaker of the Colorado House two years ago, he was a leader in a legislative effort to legitimize the Sagebrush Rebellion, which seeks to turn BLM land over to the states. As a cattle rancher, Burford has a permit to graze his stock on 33,614 acres of public land in Colorado.

Anne M. Gorsuch of Colorado, the president's choice to direct the Environmental Protection Agency. She is a lawyer and former Republican state legislator. She and Burford share common bonds -- they were close political allies in the legislature, remain close friends, are both friends of Interior Secretary James G. Watt and were both supported for their jobs by conservative Colorado beer brewer Joseph Coors.

Ray Arnett of California, the nominee to oversee the Fish and Wildlife Service at Interior. He was state fish and game director when Reagan was governor of California and was scored for positions environmentalists felt to be inimical to game conservation. More recently as a board member of the National Wildlife Federation, he was begin involved in a power struggle aimed at ousting Executive vice president Thomas Kimball, a favorite of conservationists.

Carol E. Dinkins of Texas, the first woman partner in John Connally's Houston law firm, Vinson & Elkins, who is to be assistant attorney general for land and natural resources -- the chief federal lawyer on environmental issues. Much of her work in Texas involved corporate clients doing battle over federal air and water protection laws.

Ted Kronmiller, a House subcommittee staff aide who is reported to be in line to become deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries. iHe has been an assistant to Rep. John Breaux (D-La.), perhaps the leading congressional opponent of the nearly finished Law of the Sea Treaty the administration is trying to block. Breaux has maintained that the treaty would block the access of U.S. companies to seabed minerals.

In each of these instances, the Reagan choices will replace administrators who generally, although not darlings of the environmental movement, at least were regarded as approachable. For the movement, it is clearly now a new day.

"The problem is that there's no balance in these appointments," said Brock Evans, of the Washington office of the Sierra Club. Added Brant Calkin, Sierra's Southwest representative in Santa Fe: "There's all this talk of the foxes in the henhouse. Well, it may be more like asking Dracula to guard the blook bank."

Through a series of statements and action, Interior Secretary Watt has left no doubt about the environmental direction of the administration. His aim is to reduce his department's control over parks, public lands and water, while opening public terrain to more mineral exploration and development.

That approach has sharp echoes throughout the administration. Crowell's pending nomination as chief overseer of the national forests, in the view of environmentalists, follows the pattern.

If nominated and confirmed by the Republican Senate, as is expected, Crowell will be in charge of his old nemesis, the U.S. Forest Service, and be in a position to alter the policies that govern commercial timber cutting on about 90 million acres of national forest land.

The Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council intend to oppose Crowell's nomination on the ground that it raises conflict-of-interst questions. But, having seen the sunrise of the new day, they don't expect to have much impact.

Crowell's celebrated speech, widely circulated here and across the country by environmentalists, criticized Forest Service policy limiting the amount of old-growth cutting in the Northwest and forest-management rules now taking effect at the direction of Congress.

On both issues, Crowell will be able to change the service's direction if he chooses. He also will be in a position to carry out policy changes recommended in 1979 by the National Forest Products Association legislative subcommittee he headed.

Among other things, the association opposed Forest Service proposals to protect wildlife in the forests through regulation of timber clear-cutting and to protect streams by requiring companies to leave uncut buffer zones of timber along the banks. The association lost on both points, but, as Barlow noted, it is a new day at the Forest Service.

At Interior, Harris, the new head of the strip-mine control office, will be in a position to alter the policies that he and other conservative state legislators in coal states have fought since a tough regulatory law was passed in 1977.

Both Harris, and Watt are in a somewhat unusual situation on strip mining. Indiana, at Harris' behest, is fighting the strip mine law in the Supreme Court. Watt, as president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver, filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Indiana and Virginia at the same time he was being selected as interior secretary-designate.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Watt promised to "recuse" himself from decisions that might affect companies or individuals that had provided financial support to Mountain States, or in which his foundation had been involved.

Last month, however, Watt announced he was suspending regulatory actions on the distribution of federally-subsidized irrigation water to large growers in the West. Officials of the Farm/Water Alliance, a lobby for big growers, in a December letter thanked Watt for his past help in litigation aimed at stopping the regulations.

Interior officials maintained last month that Watt's decision did not represent a violation of his promise. And Farm/Water this week contended that its letter to Watt was in error in attributing legal aid to him.

Watt's selection of cattleman Burford to head the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees federal grazing lands in the West, may create similar questions and challenges from environmentalists.

Burford has been quoted as saying that he intends to seek transfer of his permit to graze his stock on BLM lands near Grand Junction, Colo., to one of his sons. A BLM spokesman at Grand Junction, however, said yesterday that the office has not received a transfer application from Burford.