The Interior Department is sorting through 269 applications for 17 jobs that don't pay anything.

But there are other rewards. The members of the National Public Lands Advisory Council will get to whisper in the ear of Robert F. Burford, head of the Bureau of Land Management, who is responsible for some 170 million acres of federal lands in the 48 contiguous states and 70 million acres or so in Alaska.

So proponents and opponents alike of ranching, timbering, mining and drilling interests, especially in the western states, are interested in getting a seat on the 18-member council. (One member, Robert H. Adam of Valley Center, Calif., has already been chosen.)

The council had its problems in the Carter administration, when western ranchers complained that Cecil D. Andrus, then interior secretary, had stacked it with environmentalists, a complaint not likely to be repeated during Interior Secretary James G. Watt's reign.

In fact, Watt can stack the new council any way he likes: its charter does not call for a broad representation of interests. But an Interior spokesman said there will be "an attempt to see that there is some representation" for everyone when the new members are chosen, probably this month.