KOCHI: In what is certainly a proud moment for Kerala, two of its students have gone to win ranks in the prestigious Indian Forest Service (IFS) Exam, held last year (2011). The results were declared on Friday, and as it turned out, 26-year-old Keerthi R from Palakkad notched the first rank. IFS is one of the toughest competitive exams in the country, that sees thousands of applicants. Of them only a few hundreds get chosen every year. It was double celebration for Keerthi, who also tied the knot on Saturday. “I was totally elated. I have always been interested in adventure, wildlife and trekking. It was a dream come true,” says the youngster, who did her graduation in Forestry from Kerala Agricultural University and is now pursuing her post-graduation.Keerthi says she prefers to work from Kerala, and is looking forward to her role as a Forest Officer. “The big challenge today is development versus conservation. To maintain a balance between the two will be the key to many problems,” says the topper.Keerthi also notes that the interest in IFS has been growing among students, keeping in view the fact that environmental concerns have increased. “The competition is becoming stiffer every year,” she says.If Keerthi is overjoyed over the results, equally thrilled is Sumesh Soman, who stood 20th in the same exam. A resident of Thekkady, Sumesh says he always nurtured the ambition of becoming an IFS officer only. So he did not consider IAS or any other competitive exams, though he has been a high-scoring student all along.“My school was near the Periyar Tiger Reserve, so it was something I grew up with and was always interested in. During Wildlife celebration days, I used to take part in quiz and win them. Later, the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, offered me a seat with fellowship, which I did not take up at that time. I went on to do my BSc in Forestry from Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur,” he says.So what are the issues he would like to take up in the future? “The biggest problem that forests face is that of human population. There are many settlements and villages around forests. The resources are used, and this naturally puts pressure on the forests. If some alternative can be provided, where the villagers are re-settled elsewhere and given a means of livelihood, this problem can be taken care of,” he says.