Some major environmental groups have attacked the U.S. Forest Service's final rules on forest management as a sellout to the timber industry, surprising government officials who thought they had satisfied the environmentalists' complaints about the draft rules.

"This rule has zero impact," said Charles R. (Rex) Hartgraves, director of land management planning for the Forest Service and the career bureaucrat who wrote the regulation. "We cleaned up the language in the old rule and we eliminated philosophical passages which don't belong in regulations. But it doesn't mean we're not going to follow those principles still."

Under existing law, forests must be managed for "multiple uses and sustained yields," a bureaucratic phrase meaning that the protection of wildlife, wilderness and watershed, and the land's ability to regenerate trees, must be considered along with the forest's commercial value for timber.

Environmental groups had strongly protested the draft regulation, and when the final rule came out in the Federal Register last week, the protests rolled in again.

Peter Kirby of the Wilderness Society claimed the changes "would promote the overcutting of the remaining old-growth timber in the Pacific Northwest . . . and postpone wilderness study for eligible lands."

Added the Sierra Club's John Hooper: "At a time of oversupply of federal timber with current sales being made at greatly reduced prices, these rule changes to increase logging constitute another Reagan administration giveaway to the timber industry."

Douglas W. MacCleery, deputy assistant secretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, said the Forest Service had rewritten the regulation in response to 2,020 comments it received on the draft version. Most of those comments were based on mailings or news stories generated by the environmental groups in opposition to the regulations, Hartgraves said, and MacCleery said the Forest Service "bent to their wishes."

F. Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council said his group helped bring the Forest Service "to its senses on at least some issues." And Thomas D. Lustig, public lands counsel at the National Wildlife Federation, conceded that many of their objections had been met.

Part of what seems to be bothering the environmentalists is that the regs are, indeed, very little changed from what existed before the Forest Service started tinkering. "All they did was revert to the inadequate provisions of the 1979 regulations," said Peyton Sturges, an NRDC forest project assistant.

Lustig of the Wildlife Federation said another crucial change eliminates protection for "indicator species," such as those that are endangered, threatened, commonly hunted or fished or those with special habitats. Forest Service officials say the 1979 regs were never intended to afford those "indicator species" blanket protection to the degree that environmentalists are reading the language.

"I'm troubled by the shrillness and the demagoguery that is coming from the environmentalists this time because the process needs integrity to work," MacCleery said. "I'm not like some in this administration who won't even meet and have lunch with them. I do it all the time. I want to work with them."