Those popular ramp dinners could be in trouble, at least in North Carolina.

Starting next year, civic groups that pick wild ramps in the Nantahala National Forest for use in spring festivals will have to abide by new Forest Service rules that says where and how to pick the plants, in addition to charging ramp diggers 50-cents-a-pound.

The government worries that big digs of ramps are straining their natural populations.

The US Forest Service is eager to help preserve the ramp for future festivals.

"If we don't figure out a way to manage them, they'll be gone," researcher Jim Chamberlain said. "If there are no more ramps, there will be no more ramp festivals."

Diggers will not be allowed to take more than half of the plants they find in every square foot of a ramp patch.

Researchers say 3,000 pounds of ramps are dug each year in NC. It takes 40 to 80 plants to make a pound.

The Richwood Ramp Festival, West Virginia's longest-running ramp festival, uses 2,000 pounds of ramps gathered by volunteers.

But demand for ramps is growing beyond the mountains. Even Martha Stewart gushes over ramps, which can now be found in upscale produce markets and in chic restaurants.

In 2002, ramps became so popular that the National Park Service banned ramp collecting in the Great Smoky Mountains for fear they would be harvested out of existence.

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