Univariate time-series analyses were conducted on stable carbon isotope ratios obtained from tree-ring cellulose. We looked for the presence and structure of autocorrelation. Significant autocorrelation violates the statistical independence assumption and biases hypothesis tests. Its presence would indicate the existence of lagged physiological effects that persist for longer than the current year. We analyzed data from 28 trees (60–85 years old; mean = 73 years) of western white pine (Pinus monticola Dougl.), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Laws.), and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco var. glauca) growing in northern Idaho. Material was obtained by the stem analysis method from rings laid down in the upper portion of the crown throughout each tree's life. The sampling protocol minimized variation caused by changing light regimes within each tree. Autoregressive moving average (ARMA) models were used to describe the autocorrelation structure over time. Three time series were analyzed for each tree: the stable carbon isotope ratio (δ13C); discrimination (Δ); and the difference between ambient and internal CO2 concentrations (caci). The effect of converting from ring cellulose to whole-leaf tissue did not affect the analysis because it was almost completely removed by the detrending that precedes time-series analysis. A simple linear or quadratic model adequately described the time trend. The residuals from the trend had a constant mean and variance, thus ensuring stationarity, a requirement for autocorrelation analysis. The trend over time for caci was particularly strong (R2 = 0.29–0.84). Autoregressive moving average analyses of the residuals from these trends indicated that two-thirds of the individual tree series contained significant autocorrelation, whereas the remaining third were random (white noise) over time. We were unable to distinguish between individuals with and without significant autocorrelation beforehand. Significant ARMA models were all of low order, with either first- or second-order (i.e., lagged 1 or 2 years, respectively) models performing well. A simple autoregressive (AR(1)), model was the most common. The most useful generalization was that the same ARMA model holds for each of the three series (δ13C, Δ, caci) for an individual tree, if the time trend has been properly removed for each series. The mean series for the two pine species were described by first-order ARMA models (1-year lags), whereas the Douglas-fir mean series were described by second-order models (2-year lags) with negligible first-order effects. Apparently, the process of constructing a mean time series for a species preserves an underlying signal related to δ13C while canceling some of the random individual tree variation. Furthermore, the best model for the overall mean series (e.g., for a species) cannot be inferred from a consensus of the individual tree model forms, nor can its parameters be estimated reliably from the mean of the individual tree parameters. Because two-thirds of the individual tree time series contained significant autocorrelation, the normal assumption of a random structure over time is unwarranted, even after accounting for the time trend. The residuals of an appropriate ARMA model satisfy the independence assumption, and can be used to make hypothesis tests.